Arranged marriage: I was a teen bride, and I was abused (VIDEO)
Video by Louis C. Hochman for New Jersey 101.5
When Fraidy Reiss was 19, she says, she was a child.
Naive. Immature. Sheltered. A virgin. A product of Brooklyn's (and later Lakewood's) insular ultra-Orthodox Jewish community who didn't know herself, didn't know what it meant to be in a relationship or marriage, didn't know what to expect from the world or how it should treat her.
She didn't find anything unusual about entering an arranged marriage at age 19 — and getting to 20 single was unthinkable. She didn't find anything unusual when, on her first of seven dates with her husband to be, he got pulled over for doing 105 mph on the West Side Highway in New York City with no license and 30 points on his record. She was charmed, not terrified, when he got into fistfights on the street during another.
"I said, 'This was such an energetic guy. He's so much fun. This is somebody who's going to protect me,'" Reiss said.
Again, Reiss says, she was a child.
And at 19, she says, she could never have done what she did at 27, living in Lakewood — defy the expectations of a community that treated turning over a fellow Jew to secular authorities as a sin, and pursue a restraining order against a husband who'd punched a hole into their apartment wall, who'd threatened to kill her time and again.
At 19, she says, she could never have done what she did at 32 — divorce her husband, earning her the condemnation of a family that declared her dead, and threats from members and leaders of the Orthodox community. She began to build a secular life with her two daughters.
Reiss' experience lead her to form Unchained at Last, a nonprofit aimed at helping girls and women avoid or leave arranged and forced marriages. And it's why her group is backing a bill aimed at ending child marriage in New Jersey.
The bill wouldn't have applied to her, as a 19-year-old, of legal age. But roughly one person under 18 gets married in New Jersey every two days — 85 percent of them minor girls paired with adults old enough to make their age gap constitute statutory rape, Reiss says. She says many of those entering such marriages are doing so because of intense family and social pressure, like the kind she faced.
Reiss says at 19, she didn't know what she was getting into. Girls — and sometimes boys — even younger don't have the wherewithal, agency, independence and legal support to make a healthy and informed decision about marriage, she argues.
"There's a whole list of things I wish that my younger self had known," Reiss told New Jersey 101.5 in the video interview above. "But there was just know way that that person, at that age, in that community, under those circumstances could ever have understood any of those things."