PLATTSBURGH - Paul Henry Danylewich's motivation as a public speaker is simple: to make young women aware abusive relationships are possible and they don't have to live with them.
Danylewich's message was heard by approximately 200 area high school girls at the first annual Plattsburgh Girl Conference Nov. 3, held at the Senior Citizens Council of Clinton County Senior Center. Students from Beekmantown, Chateaugay, Crown Point, Lake Placid, North Wood, Keene Valley and Willsboro high schools were bussed in for the day-long event brought to Plattsburgh by the Montreal speaker.
"We wanted to make young women aware of the fact these things are happening," said Danylewich, who serves as director of White Tiger, a professional security consulting group that specializes in personal safety. "We wanted to debunk the myth some people have that this happens only in bigger cities. It can happen anywhere."
Danylewich said he was inspired to start the Girl Conference Series as a way to commemorate the lives of 14 young women shot Dec. 6, 1989, in Montreal's cole Polytechnique Massacre. The women were murdered by Marc L pine, who blamed women for him not being accepted into the engineering school. L pine went into a school and separated the women and the men in the classroom and executed the young women before committing suicide.
After the shootings, Canada recognized the day to remember the victims but Danylewich said just having a day to remember the loss of the female students wasn't enough, he wanted to work on preventative training for young women.
"It's important to commemorate them, but also to use their story to proactively educate others," said Danylewich. "We wanted to turn that terrible day into something good."
The Nov. 3 conference included self-defense demonstrations by Mya Khan and musical performances by Canadian artists Shaharah and Anastasia, testimonies of young women who have been in abusive relationships.
State University of New York at Plattsburgh Gender and Womens studies professor Dr. Simona Sharoni did an exercise with the young women to list ingredients of a healthy relationship.
Shahara said one of the reasons she wanted to participate in the Girl Conference Series was because when she was 17, she was in an verbally, mentally and financially abusive relationship.
"When I was their age I didn't know about all the types of abuse. For me abuse just meant physical so I thought to myself as long as someone wasn't hitting me that I was being respected and was being loved in the proper way," Shaharah said. "I think its great to be involved in teaching these girls about all the different types of abuse and what their local resources are so that when they do recognize that they are in abusive relationship they know what to do and where to go."
Beekmantown school counselor Jennifer Duffy said she and other staff members thought the conference would be beneficial to young girls as they prepare to leave their parents' homes for college, giving them knowledge of what to do in an emergency.
"We wanted them to learn some safety tips that they should be made aware of in certain situations," said Duffy.
"If even one girl from the conference learned something that will get them out of a bad relationship or prevents them from being beaten, it was worth it," said Danylewich.
Editor Jeremiah S. Papineau contributed to this report.