Fraidy Reiss was 19 when her family arranged her marriage to a man who turned out to be violent. With no education or job, and in a religious community where only men can grant a divorce, she was trapped for 12 years. Fraidy became the first in her family to attend college; she graduated from Rutgers at age 32 as valedictorian. She went on to become an investigative reporter at the Asbury Park Press, got divorced and won custody of her two daughters. In 2011, Fraidy founded Unchained At Last to help other women in New Jersey and across the United States to resist or escape forced marriages and rebuild their lives. Through Unchained, she has provided crucial, often life-saving services – always free of charge – to more than 950 individuals. When girls under the age of 18 started reaching out for the same help, Unchained could not help them because marriage before 18 was legal in all 50 states. Fraidy’s research revealed that 300,000 children, some as young as age 10, were married in the U.S. between 2000 and 2018, mostly girls to adult men.
In New Jersey, she discovered that more than 3,600 children as young as 13 were married between 1995 and 2015, with more than 85 percent young girls to adult men. Fraidy drafted a bill to end child marriages in New Jersey and worked for months to convince two legislators, Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz and Senator Nellie Pou, to introduce it. Her efforts paid off on June 22, 2018 when Governor Murphy signed the bill and made New Jersey the second state, after Delaware, to end child marriage.
To date, Fraidy has helped to change the law in 10 U.S. states to ban child marriage. For her extraordinary efforts, Fraidy was awarded the $50,000 Russ Berrie Making a Difference Award.
Unchained At Last is the only organization dedicated to ending forced and child marriage in the United States through direct services and systems change. Unchained provides crucial legal and social services, always for free, to help women, girls and others in the U.S. to escape arranged/forced marriages and rebuild their lives. The organization started and now leads a growing national movement to eliminate child marriage in every U.S. state and at the federal level.