This is part of WTOP’s continuing coverage of people making a difference from our community authored by Stephanie Gaines-Bryant. Read more of that coverage.
Twenty years ago, a D.C. woman said she dreaded one day of the week more than any other.
The Rev. Unnia Pettus said she married an abusive minister.
“Sundays were really a scary day because I didn’t know what kind of service we were going to have, but I knew regardless of the service, I was going to get my Sunday beating,” she said.
According to Pettus, the abuse began on their wedding day when her new husband locked her out of their honeymoon suite and got progressively worse over a six-year period. It started with emotional and verbal abuse before becoming physical abuse.
Why did she and so many other women stay in these relationships?
“You love that person more than you love yourself,” she said.
Pettus, who was working on her doctoral degree, said she wanted someone from the church to ask her what was going on or why she wore sunglasses in the wintertime. However, nobody ever came to her aid because her husband was so loved and idolized by their church congregation.
Pettus finally ended the relationship in 2002 after he broke her ribs several times. Then, in what she thought would be a final escape from the abuse, she said she tried to kill herself by taking a homemade concoction of apple sauce mixed with multiple prescription drugs, including sleeping pills and Percocets.
Pettus survived the attempt and turned her tragic situation into triumph, not just for herself but also for people in the D.C. region trying to escape domestic violence.
In 2007, Pettus became the founder of Nobody But God Ministries based in D.C. That same year, she authored a similarly titled book, “Nobody But God: A Journey of Faith From Tears to Triumph.” Now, she is working on her second book, “Overcomer.”
Her ventures have a common theme: helping domestic violence victims move forward from their trauma.
When speaking to domestic violence survivors, “you tell them you’re going to be their advocate,” Pettus said.
Her first advice to survivors is to have a plan. Then, she walks them through how to get restraining and protective orders. Pettus also joins victims during court or doctor’s appointments.
“I’m there to be the big sister to tell them you’ve done the right thing,” said Pettus. “You’ve stepped out and left. Now, let’s get you free.”
Pettus has had many successes over the last two decades as an advocate for domestic violence survivors, ordained minister and professor. She received her Ph.D. in mass communications from the University of Maryland in 2003, then turned her communications skills into a successful business. She is the president and CEO of Pettus PR, LLC, a marketing and public relations business.
However, despite her successes, Pettus has been battling health issues. She has survived four cancers, starting in 2004 after being initially diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. Pettus was diagnosed with gynecological cancer three years ago and had a full hysterectomy. It was followed by a renal cancer diagnosis, which caused her to have a tumor removed from her kidney. She has also been treated for breast cancer and is a stroke survivor.
Pettus said she’s grateful to be alive today, but she believes she’s still here to spread the message that “women need to be advocates of their own health.”