How Tina Turner inspired domestic violence survivors – but never let abuse define her

In 1993, when asked in an interview with Vanity Fair what she had stood up for, Tina Turner’s response was simple: “I stood up for my life.”

A rock and feminist icon, when the star first spoke out about the violence she had suffered at the hands of her ex-husband and musical partner, Ike, her openness about the subject was groundbreaking.

Turner was one of the first high-profile figures to do so, giving a voice to thousands of others experiencing similar situations and paving the way for a culture shift in the way domestic abuse is discussed and how survivors are treated. At the same time, she refused to let it define her.

Tina Turner and Ike Turner on Ready,Steady,Go in 1966.
Tina Turner on stage with Ike Turner in 1966

After first revealing the abuse to People magazine in 1981, in her memoirs and when asked subsequently in interviews, she spoke of the “torture” of her 16-year marriage; about the broken bones and the humiliation, the beatings before she would have to dazzle audiences alongside him on stage.

“I was living a life of death,” she said in the 2021 documentary about her life. “I didn’t exist. But I survived it. And when I walked out, I walked. And I didn’t look back.”

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The triumph and trauma of a music legend

Tina Turner performs at the O2 Arena in London March 3, 2009

Turner was already a star. But after her marriage, she would later become an icon: the Queen of Rock’n’Roll.

“When a survivor who is in an abusive relationship hears a woman like Tina Turner talk about her experiences, talk about her survival journey, and then can see the success and recovery that she’s achieved – it really does give survivors and those experiencing domestic abuse the courage and the hope to reach out and seek help,” Women’s Aid chief executive Farah Nazeer told Sky News.

“[Turner shows] it is possible to move away from these harmful relationships, which can feel all-encompassing, which can feel like imprisonment. It’s incredibly powerful to have a woman like Tina Turner, an iconic woman, a celebrity, speak out in this way.”

‘It wasn’t something socially acceptable to talk about’

Flowers lie across US singer Tina Turner's Hollywood Walk of Fame Star in Los Angeles.

When Turner first revealed the abuse she had endured, it was “revolutionary”, Ms Nazeer says. “It provided a voice to those women who felt that they could not talk about it; it wasn’t something that was societally acceptable to talk about.

“It began that transformation where we now do talk about these issues, and we now do accept more and more that domestic abuse is the crime of the perpetrator and survivors shouldn’t feel guilt, they shouldn’t feel shame. But that was very much the culture in those days.”

Boney M singer Liz Mitchell, who was friends with Turner, praised the star’s courage in overcoming the struggles she faced in life. “Today, her whole image is a testimony for many women to realise that things can go wrong in your life, but if you can find a way out of it, take the way, and move on like she did. She just stayed strong.”

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Boney M star on Tina Turner

‘She was the reason I left abusive relationship’

Turner’s bravery in speaking about abuse has prompted a swell of praise following her death at the age of 83, with survivors sharing stories of how she inspired them.

“My heart is broken,” wrote Trisha Jopson, from New York, in a tribute on Instagram. “She was the reason I left an abusive relationship. She was so much more than an entertainer. She was an absolute inspiration.”

Spice Girl Melanie Brown, who has spoken out about her own experiences of alleged domestic abuse, is also among those who have praised the star.

The West End production of Tina – The Tina Turner Musical had partnered with Women’s Aid, and as a patron of the charity the singer had been in the audience for the show the night before Turner’s death.

“She did the impossible,” Brown wrote on Instagram. “She left him, she survived, she got away, and gave ALL survivors like me hope.”

Campaigners say that as well as her music, this is Turner’s legacy.

“That’s the incredible message this iconic woman portrays,” says Ms Nazeer. “You can really see the success and the hope and the joy in Tina Turner, post-Ike.

“That really gives courage and a sense of hope to women who are experiencing domestic abuse – this is what life could be like afterwards.”

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