When she was 19, Fraidy Reiss, a native of Lakewood, New Jersey, was wed to a man chosen by her parents. Soon, according to Reiss, her husband turned violent and threatened to kill her.

Without an income and trapped in a marriage she didn’t choose, Reiss UCNB’07 believed a college education was the path to freedom. Despite her husband’s threats and having to care for two small children, she enrolled at Rutgers in 2002 and graduated at the top of her class. Once she could support herself and her children as a newspaper reporter, she divorced her husband after 15 years of marriage.

Reiss’s experience led her to start the nonprofit organization Unchained at Last  in 2011. The organization’s network of  attorneys provides free legal representation to women trying to escape forced or arranged marriages. Reiss and her team, which also provides women with personal, job, and education counseling, have helped roughly 350 women escape from their marriages.

Reiss says she was stunned to learn it is legal for children as young as 12 to get married in the United States. “Marriage before 18 has devastating consequences for girls,” she says. “It undermines their health, limits their education and economic opportunity, and increases their risk of experiencing violence.”

Reiss and Unchained are also working to raise the legal marriage age to 18 in all 50 states. “There’s a national movement to end child marriage,” she says, “and eventually we’ll start seeing real success.”

To learn more, visit unchainedatlast.org.