Florence Kelley Award
Founding Executive Director, Unchained at Last
Fraidy Reiss is a forced marriage survivor turned activist.
She was 19 when she was forced to marry a stranger in New York City’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community — and she was subjected to a virginity examination before the wedding. She was stripped of all sexual and reproductive rights within her abusive marriage, forced to have unprotected marital sex and forced to have two children without her consent. Even though her husband was violent from the first week of their marriage, her insular religious community refused her the right to leave; in that community, only a man can grant a divorce.
Determined to escape her forced marriage, Fraidy eventually defied her husband and community to become the first person in her family to go to college. She graduated from Rutgers University at age 32 as valedictorian (called “commencement speaker” at Rutgers). With her journalism degree, she was hired as a reporter for the Asbury Park Press in New Jersey, eventually getting promoted to the paper’s elite investigative-reporting team. She went on to a career as an investigator at Kroll, then the world’s largest investigations firm. At the same time, Fraidy managed to get divorced, win full custody of her two daughters and get a final restraining order against her ex-husband.
Her family declared her dead, but Fraidy is very much alive. She founded and now leads Unchained At Last, the only organization dedicated to ending forced and child marriage in the United States through direct services and advocacy.
Through Unchained, Fraidy has helped hundreds of survivors across the U.S. to escape forced marriages, and she now leads a growing national movement to end child marriage in every U.S. state and at the federal level. Legislation she helped to write and promote has been passed into law in multiple U.S. states.
Fraidy’s research and writing on forced and child marriage have been published extensively, including in the New York Times, Washington Post and Journal of Adolescent Health and by Oxford Press, making her one of the foremost experts on these abuses in the U.S. She has been featured in books (including as one of the titular women in Hillary and Chelsea Clinton’s The Book of Gutsy Women), films (including the award-winning documentary Knots: A Forced Marriage Story) and countless television, radio and print news stories.