Meet Fraidy Reiss - Founder Unchained at Last #16days
Fraidy Reiss is an internationally recognized expert on forced and “child marriage”. Growing up in an orthodox religious community in New York, Fraidy was 19 when her family pressured her into marrying an abusive man. With limited education, no job or income, and two children to provide for, she had to overcome huge challenges to escape her marriage and build a new life.
Motivated by her own experience, Fraidy went onto setup Unchained at Last to help others affected by forced and “child marriage”. It is the only dedicated organization in the USA providing direct support services and advocating for legal change.
Now a trained journalist as well as an activist, Fraidy’s articles have been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post and numerous other high profile publications, and she has played a leading role in shining a public spotlight on forced and “child marriage” across America.
On December 10th Equality Now and Unchained at Last are launching The National Coalition to End Child Marriage. We spoke to Fraidy about her activism.
What inspires you to do the work you do?
I come from an insular religious community with extremely rigid gender roles, where women are trained not to think or question. I was taught not to be seen or heard, my sole purpose was to cook, serve my husband and have children. All my life, every single decision was made for me, every aspect of my life was carefully guided by laws and customs.
I managed to leave my husband by getting an education, a job and providing for my children. I became financially independent and was able to buy a house. It was a triumph but I felt an overwhelming sense of survivor’s guilt about all those women still living in that hell. I remembered how lonely and petrified I’d been and thought I need to help.
What is the greatest challenge you face in your work?
Trying to escape is one of the most terrifying things, leaving your family and your community. Not only did I have no support, I faced active resistance from those who were supposed to care about me.
When I left, I didn’t have any contacts who I could reach out to for help, which is why what I do now is so important. Some of the survivors I work with come from similar insular communities, or have parents who kept them very cut off from the outside world. I want others to have someone they can turn to for the support that wasn’t available when I needed it.
What is one thing others can do to make change?
It takes a village to end child marriage and we can’t solve a problem that nobody knows exists. We want people to spread the word, to call on the federal government to act, and to send a strong message to all states that we need laws and policies in place that protect against forced and “child marriage”.
What is your hope for the future?
Unchained At Last, Equality Now and the survivors we work with are leading a growing movement in the USA and I am determined to get marriage laws changed in every state!
Fraidy has worked tirelessly since 2011 to close loopholes in state laws which allow girls to be married at any age so long as a judge or guardian consents. Today Equality Now and Unchained at Last together launch The National Coalition to End Child Marriage.