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How Tina Turner broke the silence on domestic abuse

When Tina Turner first spoke out about the violence she endured during her marriage to Ike Turner, it was an act of bravery to expose herself so publicly.

“I was insanely afraid of that man,” she told People Magazine in 1981, revealing the painful reality behind the hugely successful musical duo.

Tina’s scorching description of their marriage included being made to watch a live sex show in a brothel on their wedding night, and being beaten with a shoe stretcher while she was pregnant.

She also spoke about Ike throwing scalding coffee at her, and of being brutalised with a coat hanger. In 1968, she tried to take her own life.

“I was afraid to put it out [talk about the abuse] because of what I would get from Ike,” she told journalist Carl Arrington.

Ike Turner, who died in 2007, always denied his ex-wife’s claims that he abused her, and expressed frustration that he had been demonised in the media.

The couple met when Tina was just 17, after she saw his group Kings of Rhythm perform and asked him to hear her sing.

Not surprisingly, he spotted her star quality, making her his lead singer, choosing her stage name and lavishing her with clothes and jewellery.

They got married in 1962, and Tina, who had already experienced the pain of being rejected as a child by her mother, promised Ike she “wouldn’t leave him” – something she later came to regret.

“I felt obligated to stay there, and I was afraid,” she told Arrington. “I didn’t want to hurt him, and after he beat me up . . . I was sitting there all bruised and torn, and all of a sudden I’m feeling sorry for him.

“Maybe I was brainwashed.”

But by 1976, after a string of hits, including ‘River Deep, Mountain High’, Tina decided she felt able to leave Ike.

She could no longer put up with the “torture” of being married to him, and the impact it had on their four sons.

“I was living a life of death. I didn’t exist,” she said. “But I survived it. And when I walked out, I walked. And I didn’t look back.”

Tina moved away, and had to rebuild her career, making money by singing in Las Vegas and appearing on various TV shows.

She decided to tell all in the 1981 interview, to expel some of the ghosts from her past.

In Daniel Lindsay and TJ Martin’s 2021 documentary ‘Tina’, the singer said she was so nervous about doing the interview that she asked her psychic if it would ruin her career.

“She said, ‘No, Tina’,” the singer recalled. “’It’s going to do just the opposite. It’s going to break everything wide open.’”

Lenore Walker, director of the United States-based Domestic Violence Institute, which provides support for victims of domestic abuse, thinks Tina’s decision to speak out was hugely important.

“In 1981 we were just learning about the extent of domestic violence in homes,” she told the BBC. “It was often thought to be only poor women without resources who were abused.

“When Tina Turner spoke out about her life, it brought awareness to the fact that domestic violence was everywhere.”

She says Tina helped give credence to other women daring to speak out about abuse.

“Women were not believed when they spoke out about domestic violence, so when Tina Turner, a well-respected and famous singer, spoke out, it gave other women the courage to do so too,” she explained.

“We needed ‘influencers’ such as Tina Turner to speak out about domestic violence […] It is still important to hear her voice to understand how difficult it is for a woman to be able to terminate a battering relationship without getting hurt, or killed,” Walker said.


Broadcaster and sexual abuse survivor Oprah Winfrey also talked in the documentary of the importance of women speaking out in the 80s.

“Nobody talked about sexual abuse, physical abuse, domestic abuse – abuse, period. Our generation is the generation that started to break the silence.”

Winfrey has paid tribute to Tina, saying: “Her life became a clarion call for triumph.”

What Tina didn’t realise was that her explosive revelations would follow her around as her career took off again in the 1980s, with hits including ‘Let’s Stay Together’, ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It’, ‘Private Dancer’, and ‘The Best’.

Tina’s career continued to grow, and her story carried on being told, and in the 1993 film ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It’, adapted from her 1986 autobiography ‘I, Tina’, she was played by Angela Bassett.

The singer often credited her Buddhist faith, which she found in the 70s, with helping her find the courage to leave Ike Turner.

“I started seeing my life – I started really seeing that I had to make a change,” she said.

By 2018, the singer decided to bring out a new autobiography, ‘My Love Story’, where she also talked about finding love with actor and producer Erwin Bach, and how she coped with her son, Craig, taking his life.

In 2021, Tina was inducted on her own into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, having previously been inducted – with Ike – in 1991.

In April this year, the singer’s story went full circle, when ‘Tina – The Tina Turner Musical’ partnered with Women’s Aid for its fifth anniversary, ahead of Women’s Aid’s 50th anniversary.

Farah Nazeer, the chief executive at Women’s Aid, says: “Tina is an inspiration, her story shows the strength of survivors and that there is hope for women experiencing abuse currently – there is both freedom and happiness after abuse.”