A seed was planted 15 years ago… It has blossomed into a tree of knowledge and compassion thanks to the Rieger family.
One never knows for sure what drives another to get involved, to create a work of art, a lasting memorial or legacy to “do justice to a person.” For those who die tragically, there are as many reasons not to carry on as there are stories to tell… However, through the madness of it all, a new idea is spawned, sprinkled with success and then, through a lot of blood, sweat and tears, becomes a tradition of the best kind.
Such was the beginnings of the Melanie Ilene Rieger Memorial Conference Against Violence a “mere 15 years ago.” A lovely young woman named Melanie, an aspiring social worker, who “loved to help”, took in strays of the animal and people varieties, who, in hindsight, should have left the wayward animal known as her boyfriend, (Inmate #23062) by the side of the road for all eternity. Instead, he preyed upon her when she was about to steer her life in a new direction.
And then, it befell her by strangulation and being stuffed into a gym bag. The vanishing of a life 19 years too short, by a controller, “unable to let her go.” We in crime victim circles are too familiar with the “Domestic Violence Anthem” that begins, “If I Can’t Have You, No One Else Will…”
Such insecurity and jealous rage ending in homicide can happen in a moment, an hour, or more likely be simmering over a lifetime filled with nothingness. The perpetrator seeks to take over another’s life and cannot imagine that their behaviors are not the definition of love, but self-serving and selfish beyond anyone’s imagination.
The consequences of homicide cannot be fixed! Friends and family are left in the aftermath of their nightmare wondering what to do…
Sam and Wanda Rieger took from the ashes of their daughter’s death and created (along with a village of volunteers) a premier conference dedicated to serving the needs of future crime victims and educating those who serve them. However, this is not solely an academic gathering with Power Point presentations. More to the point, it is a touching of souls and sharing of stories… creating an everlasting impact for participants – good, bad, but NEVER indifferent. Veteran survivors of crime such as Ladyjustice do not return for the facts and figures, or to be exposed to more violence. Rather, we return to visit old friends, for the thirst of ever increasing knowledge in the field of victimology and violence in today’s society. We come to share with new victims and service providers, the benefit of our tragic experiences …and to hear more stories. The stories never end…
In the telling of those stories, crime victims release stress, try to fend off survivors’ guilt and help others to understand and heal.
Social work students and other human service providers attending for the first time are overwhelmed both in a positive and negative way, hopefully never to return to their once held stereotypical attitudes about what it’s like to be a crime victim….and further on down the road…a survivor of crime.
The 2011 Conference was no different in these respects. It begins with a touching presentation of the Colors and bagpipe music, and the lighting of (an electric) candle on Melanie’s portrait (Thanks to fire regulations).
It surely takes a village…. And if there’s a glitch here or there or a “no show” other professionals pick up the slack. In fact, I found, these can be some of the best presentations.
The roster of participants was impressive. And yes, Ladyjustice has her favorites. Rather than write a book here and now, let me say but a few words about a few people – People you may know and some you may not…
1) Dr. Michael Schultz– A Connecticut psychologist and family therapist specializing in family medicine and a Director of Special Reviews for the State of Connecticut Department of Children and Families.
With five minutes notice, this man substituted for a “no show” and did a wonderful job providing an interesting and very interactive discussion on the expected topic of “bullying.” This learned professional was very likeable, energetic and treated us like gold for our individual contributions!
2) Mr. Marc Klaas – Father of daughter Polly, who was kidnapped and murdered in California in 1993; Founder of Klass Kids Foundation, Co- Founder of Beyond Missing in 2001.
Marc is a tireless advocate for missing children; a fighter for effective legislation and the rights of the most vulnerable victims; creator of a state of the art high tech Amber Alert application and other innovative methods for locating the missing and dissemination of information.
As it turned out, Ladyjustice had the pleasure of getting to know him over the two days and formed a new friendship with this wonderful man who continuously tries to do what’s needed in the name of his beloved daughter. He is a longtime friend and participant of the MIR Conference.
His first presentation comparing the former envelope stuffing and stamp method he was forced to use when Polly went missing, and the milk carton child identification methods of the 1980’s and early 1990’s to today’s social media capabilities was fascinating! (Polly was actually the first missing child to appear on the internet.)
If you will, picture yourself licking stamps and envelopes with the hope of a flyer “arriving somewhere” in the mail in 7 days. Now picture having 3,262,192 members on Facebook Causes (Klaas Kids) without even realizing it! Picture the fact that 1.5 children in China are kidnapped and end up begging on the streets. Via the use of Weibo technology, (Their version of Twitter) through the posting of photos of children missing for several years, 6 children have been located and reunited since February!
And a bit of trivia from Dr. Michael Schultz – At the time of Bill Clinton’s inauguration, there were only 50 existing websites…)
Secondly, Marc Klaas’ audience was treated to a great presentation concerning the Tragic Consequences of Extreme Abuse of Children with Special Needs. In addition to a lot of startling data, real video newscast clips from throughout the country effectively illustrated how often children with special needs are more vulnerable, (1.5 to 10 times more likely) to be abused, go missing or killed. These are the disposable children who rarely get noticed, rarely get any press.
Many of the cases shared this blogger’s disability- cerebral palsy.
This is unconscionable, often perpetrated by foster parents “for the money.”
Please visit and donate to: http://www.klaaskids.org/;
3) Ms. Rachel Lloyd– Was a former prostitute and victim of sex trafficking in Europe before she escaped this life and moved to the U.S. in 1994.
Rachel left school and her “good family” at age 13, engaged in shoplifting; nude modeling and was raped by a pimp who began selling her as a sex trafficker. In 1994, she escaped her situation at a church in Germany and moved to New York. She acquired a GED and college education, and subsequently began the non-profit GEMS- (Girls Education and Mentoring Services) in the Year 2000. They currently serve 275 girls per year with 70-80% coming from the foster care system.
Rachel was instrumental in the passage of the “Safe Harbor Act” in New York which views young girls as victims rather than prostitutes and seeks to prosecute the pimps.
She also testified before the US senate Judiciary C\Subcommittee on Human Rights for the formation of the Federal Trafficking Act.
A documentary film was made and in 2007 entitled “Very Young Girls” capturing the exploits of two pimps and the great work of the GEMS organization, (www.VYGthemovie.com)
GEMS accepts donations at: http://www.gems-girls.org/
An autobiographical book is also available: “Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not for Sale, an Activist Finds Her Calling and Heals Herself”
Rachel’s words of wisdom resonated with Ladyjustice. Her words are relevant to Sam and Wanda’s conference. She said, “You can’t save everyone, but you can plant the seed and if you do, you know you’ve done the best you can.”
To learn more about the MIR Conference, to volunteer for the 16th annual or to donate contact: http://melanieriegerconference.com/ or
Dr. Samuel L. Rieger
Melanie Ilene Rieger Memorial Foundation
P.O. Box 368
Watertown, CT 06795