BURLY sportsmen are lending their weight to a campaign tackling the blight of sexual violence in County Durham and Darlington.

Members of Darlington Rugby Football Union Club will be appearing on posters around the borough espousing the message ‘we don’t use our strength’ and highlighting a major conference on the issue.

A range of agencies, including Durham Police, NHS County Durham and Darlington and Darlington Borough Council are working together under the joint banners of the Safer Darlington Partnership and Safe Durham Partnership to the host the conference on Friday, February 15, at the rugby club’s Blackwell Meadows ground.

Helen Murphy, of Durham Police’s safeguarding unit, who is helping co-ordinate the event, said: “We wanted to use the players as positive role models.

“We take [the abuse of women] very seriously and have one of the highest rates of detection in the country.”

Officials investigate serious sexual assaults every month, most involving male perpetrators who are already known to their victims.

Some victims report the crimes years after they have taken place, many abused during their childhood, and the trauma can last a lifetime.

Ms Murphy added: “The greatest fear among victims is that they will not be believed and they often blame themselves or feel ashamed.

“The main thing is that the emphasis is very much on what is best for the victim rather than crime statistics.”

The Safe Durham and Safer Darlington Partnerships jointly launched a four year strategy in 2011 to combat the problem.

Since then, specially-trained officers have helped countless victims make a case against perpetrators with the help of The Meadows, a Sexual Assault Referral Centre based in Meadowfield.

Its services include support and counselling, sexual health screening and forensic medical examinations to protect evidence that could be used in the future – if and when the victim feels able to proceed with a prosecution.

The Meadows can be contacted on 0191 301 8554 or by visiting themeadowsdurham.org.uk

The stakeholder event will consider achievements so far, discuss the challenges around dealing with sexual violence and outline future priorities.

Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg will also speak about his role and focus on addressing the issue.

For more information, email safeguardingevent@durham.pnn.police.uk