Domestic violence is an ever-present issue in our society. One in three women have experienced physical violence at the hand of a partner and around 10 million Americans experience domestic violence every year. While we haven’t yet gotten to a point where domestic violence is non-existent, many heroes without capes are working relentlessly to create awareness. An organization hard at work to address these issues is the Carol Maraj Foundation. The non-profit was established by rapper Nicki Minaj’s mother, Carol Maraj, who is a domestic violence survivor herself. In her memoir, Leaving My Pain, the author and singer shared details about the abuse.
“My life journey inspired me to start the foundation. I knew if I could survive such a traumatic experience, God would want me to be the voice for those who are struggling to find a way out,” she tells ESSENCE.
The foundation, which she founded in 2013, has worked to create awareness at the grassroots levels, engaging with men and women to educate them about detecting the early signs of abuse. They also have a program empowering victims by providing tools that will help with independence such as resources for shelters, resumes and jobs.
“That’s another way of bringing stability as they bring out their gifts and understand themselves,” Maraj says.
Domestic violence can happen to anybody but learning the signs of an abusive person can help people to leave earlier. They can include someone telling their partner what to wear and who to talk to.
“The signs are there, but they must be aware that this would just progress and get worse and even cause major harm or even death,” she says.
Leaving isn’t easy for everyone, especially when victims are entrenched in the abuse and have been stuck in a cycle for extended periods of time. Abused individuals are also often shamed for staying, however, many are afraid to leave for a myriad of reasons; their lives may be at risk, they might feel ashamed, not have the resources to leave, have low self-esteem, or have grown up in abusive environments. Nonetheless, there is hope for a life free of abuse. Maraj says understanding one’s purpose and self-worth can be a portal out of a dangerous situation.
“What women need to understand is that there are other people out there who’ve been through and came out victorious in this and they must love themselves enough to know it doesn’t matter what others say, they were not born for this and God has much, much more for them,” she says. “So the answer is like a self-searching and loving themselves knowing that they’re the masterpiece and that’s gonna give them the strength to go and seek better for themselves.”
The gospel singer’s faith was instrumental in helping her leave the abusive relationship she endured with the late Robert Maraj. He died in 2021 in a tragic hit-and-run incident. Church, in particular, gave Maraj the courage she needed to leave.
“Honestly, the neighbor next door used to take me and my children to church. And I just grew in the faith. So, I realized that God loves me so much that he didn’t ordain such actions and I was worth much more,” she shares. “So it’s through my faith I got stronger and I got wiser. And I started to understand loving me after God is number one.”
Leaving wasn’t easy and Maraj stayed for so long because of her children, including her superstar daughter.
“I didn’t want my children to be in somebody else’s house or stuff like that. But it was really hurting my kids and could have hurt them in the long run by me getting my life taken away,” she says. “So yes, I delayed because of one thing, but in maturing mentally I realized I had to get the situation away from them and I did.”
The kids found it hard to adjust after Maraj left and that was the hardest for her to deal with. Many survivors go back to their abusers, with data showing it can take an average of seven times before they leave indefinitely.
“Doesn’t matter what [the] situation, they tended to always reflect on some good times that they had growing up with the abuser, ‘the abuser likes to cook or to make nice dishes,’ so they would reflect on those things,” she recalls.
She also wants women to know it’s possible to find love after abuse, but the key is to learn from past experiences and pay attention to red flags.
“It’s a wonderful thing to be in love and it’s a wonderful thing to have someone love you back and have a relationship, but it must not keep recurring,” she says. “Take from the mistakes, make notes and never go back down that path again.”
Beyond the Carol Maraj Foundation, the mother of three is also working on a fragrance and new gospel songs, including about overcoming domestic violence.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233.