RizeUp Australia is a community-driven organisation dedicated to providing practical support to the many women and families affected by domestic and family violence. RizeUp's mission is to work in partnership with domestic violence services to enhance the service options that they can offer and provide to women and families that have experienced domestic violence. RizeUp believes it is essential to ensure families are linked with services in order to receive the vital wraparound support required to break the cycle of violence and ensure their safety.
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Nicolle Edwards is the Founder and CEO of RizeUp, a community-driven organisation dedicated to providing practical support to the many women and families affected by domestic and family violence.
Nicolle's passion for charity work began approximately six years ago after assisting a friend of a friend set up house after leaving a violent relationship. This injustice sparked a fire in Nicolle and she realised that this support should be made available to all families trying to leave a life of violence behind and hence her charity career began.
Nicolle's successful journey has been recognised by the community, and as a result she is an accomplished TEDx speaker. As the 2017 recipient of Excellence in Volunteer Management Award (Queensland Volunteering Awards), Nicolle currently manages over 200 volunteers and is resolute in growing RizeUp into a national charity. Nicolle's determination will see RizeUp become the household name synonymous with breaking the cycle and Australia's answer for creating hope for families affected by domestic and family violence.
Question: What is RizeUp Australia?
Nicolle Edwards: RizeUp Australia is a Queensland founded organisation that works in partnership with domestic violence agencies to enhance the service options that they provide. The RizeUp mission is to drive awareness of domestic and family violence within society by generating life-changing, practical support for the families affected, giving them the hope, empowerment and ability to move on to a life free from violence.
RizeUp has been recognised as a ground-breaking service and an integral part of the exit-strategy engaged to move on after the devastation of domestic violence. As a stand-alone organisation, RizeUp has achieved recognition by peak support services who not only endorse and support the work that is done by RizeUp but whom also choose to partner with the RizeUp service in a mutually, collaborative manner.
RizeUp helps give a voice to those who don't feel they can speak up about domestic and family violence and it is driven with passion by an inspiring team who donate enormous amounts of their time and love helping the families in our community who are affected. We have a very serious issue with domestic violence in our society and as a community it is up to us to drive awareness of the issue and to respectfully challenge the behaviours and attitudes that allow this violence to thrive.
Question: What inspired you to begin RizeUp Australia?
Nicolle Edwards: Coming from Africa as a small child I have always felt myself drawn strongly to any injustice and in my opinion domestic and family violence is the greatest violation of social justice that our community currently faces. My journey began in this space after I had heard a story about a woman who had presented to a local hospital with her baby and her three older children. She had jumped on a train in Perth and crossed the country to get to safety because she felt that this was the only way she could get to safety. This mum fled across the country because of the violence she and her children were facing at home by her husband.
When I heard about the plight of this family, I did what any of us would do – I put a call out to my friends and family using social media and low and behold by the end of that first week we had all but housed this family. We had sourced beds, clothes, furniture – you name it. And that was it for me I guess. When I thought about this one lady and what lengths she had gone to get to safety all I could wonder was how many more were there in the same situation. I was also amazed to see how quickly my network mobilised and that showed me how much people wanted to help but they didn't necessarily know where to start – they just needed a bit of direction and I was happy to oblige. Before long I was surrounded by the most inspiring group of people who I continue to work alongside to this day – from stay-at-home mums, to CEO's of multi-nationals, to carpenters to hairdressers – my team has a common thread – they are motivated, kind human beings who care about the outcome of those we share our community with.
Question: What are you hoping to achieve, this year through RizeUp Australia?
Nicolle Edwards: My goal for this year is to expand a little further and a little deeper into Australia. I also have some really exciting projects I am working on which will be game changers in this space so I cannot wait to bring those to fruition and I'm excited to continue to grow our team of volunteers – hopefully with your help.
Question: What services of support does RizeUp Australia offer?
Nicolle Edwards: For the past 6 years, I have worked closely with front line agencies who are struggling against the tide of violence that is sweeping across our great nation.
Struggling due to the constant avalanche of devastation that they are facing on a daily basis working directly with the families whose lives have been torn apart due to violence. Struggling due to the lack of available practical resources, that help these families go to bed at night and not have to lie awake, tormented by where they will find the practical furnishings so desperately needed to provide their children the comfort they so deserve. As an organisation recognised by peak services, as the premier service providing valuable, practical and safe support, we are currently furnishing at least 5-7 homes per week for families referred through to our service.
One way our team of volunteers affect change is in the Homes Program where they provide practical assistance in the form of household donations through community involvement. Typically, when women (alone or with child) have fled a domestic violence situation, either voluntarily or via police escort, they seek solace or care in a refuge. After 12 weeks, the family are supported by the refuge to source independent accommodation. Prior to the family moving out, the refuge or service will liaise with RizeUp who in-turn coordinates the creation of a fully furnished Home. The Home transformation happens within 5 hours so the family can move in immediately which allows for another family in crisis to be placed in refuge. The team leader and their 'RizeUp Ready' volunteers coordinate the home transformation by fitting the house out with furniture, linen, kitchenware, toiletries, curtains and appliances. The RizeUp team never meet the families that are provided with support.
The Regional Families Program provides opportunity for people living in major cities and their surrounds to sponsor the rural families impacted by domestic and family violence.
The RizeUp Schools Program provides an opportunity for local community to support local children with their diverse school needs. The costs associated with relocating and reengaging children of school age are immense and for the children who have been subjected to living in a house of violence they are already struggling with the many challenges of connecting with an active learning and peer environment. RizeUp assists will all aspects required to help ease the economic pressures associated with school relocations for the families displaced due to domestic or family violence. School costs include uniforms, books, fees, camps and even extra-curricular activities where the support worker deems it helpful for the child. By supporting the children in this way ensures they can start at their new school with confidence and they are being given every opportunity to fit in and to feel comfortable in their new environment. It is the right of every Australian child to receive a good education and to be given the opportunity to stand out for all the right reasons – not allowing for circumstances out of their control to determine their lack of lack of available school resources.
Through the Rapid Response program, RizeUp provides immediate assistance for families misplaced by domestic and family violence. This is a program designed to assuage crisis needs which can be anything from supplying a double stroller through to a service to pass on or it might even be providing the cost of airfares for a family fleeing interstate in order to escape the violence.
Question: Can you share some of the latest domestic violence statistics with us?
Nicolle Edwards: The statistics of violence against women in Australia are truly shocking and growing up in a house of violence can have an enormous impact. Research shows us that children who grow up in a house of violence have great trouble connecting with their friends and family, they struggle through school and their futures are significantly compromised.
With domestic and family violence against women being the single largest driver of homelessness for women, a common factor in child protection notifications, and results in a police call-out on average once every two minutes across our country, RizeUp is committed to partnering with like-minded organizations to create systemic change in our society. Research shows that intimate partner violence is the leading contributor to death, disability and illness in women aged 15 – 44 and is responsible for even more of the disease burden than smoking and obesity.
This significant social problem is also ultimately preventable but for us to be able to prevent violence against women, we first need to understand it.
These next few sobering statistics will help demonstrate to you the prevalence and the severity of violence against women:
In Australia, approximately one woman per week is killed by her current or former partner
One woman is hospitalised every 3 hours with injuries sustained from intimate partner violence.
Three women are hospitalised every week with a traumatic brain injury as a result of an assault by her current or ex-partner.
Indigenous women are 34 times more likely than non-indigenous women to be hospitalized due to family violence.
The economic impact of domestic violence is staggering. Violence against women and their children is currently costing Australia $21.6 Billion each year. This is a $13.5 billion dollar jump since 2004.
Question: How is domestic and family violence affecting the whole community?
Nicolle Edwards: We all have the right to live a life free of domestic and family violence. Under international human rights law, it is well established that domestic and family violence is a violation of human rights with grave and far-reaching repercussions for victims, survivors and their children. Up until now, one of the biggest issues has been that the broader community isn't actively engaged in finding a solution nor are we as a society adequately addressing the root cause of domestic violence being the issue of men's violence in Australia and gender inequality.
RizeUp Australia was created to drive awareness of domestic violence because even though we have such an enormous issue with it, no one talks about domestic violence and no one really feels comfortable talking about it. Let's bring it out of the darkness – shine the light on it and give it nowhere to hide. Let's shift the shame for victims of domestic violence and give them their voice back. Let's challenge it enough so we can make significant changes to the cultural and societal issues that allow this anti-social behaviour to thrive. Let's lean into the discomfort of the issue and challenge its existence within our community.
This economic impact is why the workplace is such a critical piece of the puzzle in terms of supporting victims of violence as well as creating a culture that promotes respectful communication and eliminates gender inequality.
As a workplace, it is extremely important to recognise that with a national average of 1 in 3 women being a victim of intimate partner violence it is equally important to acknowledge that there are potentially 1 in 3 perpetrators in a workplace environment.
Domestic and family violence is not just a private or personal issue. When an employee is living with domestic and family violence, there are often very real costs and negative impacts that flow on to the workplace.
Question: Can you talk us through how we, as a community, can help break the cycle of domestic violence?
Nicolle Edwards: Stepping out of a violent relationship takes enormous courage and inner strength but it also takes the knowledge that there is a community out there waiting to support their decision to leave the violence behind and to start again. Everyone can do something to prevent domestic and family violence. We can keep our eyes on the perpetrators of the violence and we can stop asking 'why doesn't she just leave?' and ask instead 'why doesn't he stop hurting her?'.
We can step to the left of judgement when we are faced with a friend in a violent relationship 'who keeps going back' and instead we need to reassure her that we are there regardless of her decision and that there are many really wonderful services available to help when they are ready. If we throw up our hands and walk away in frustration, all we are doing is everything the perpetrator hopes we will do which will only isolate her all the more.
We need to recognise that in the sea of wonderful men there are only a drop in that ocean by comparison who choose to violate the most vulnerable in their homes and we need our men to find their voices to challenge workplace banter that feeds the sexual objectification of women, we need them to walk away rather to stay in silence. We need to remember that silence is collusion. We need to remember to make the call as it might be the call that saves her life.
Question: What's a typical day like, for you, at RizeUp Australia?
Nicolle Edwards: Our days are busy and no two are the same. A typical day for me might be dropping the children off at school and then going on to meetings to drive events and advocacy. It might also be going up to Parliament House, sitting with the minister and discussing the various projects we are working on. We have a very good relationship with the Government as we are highly regarded within the space due to the high levels of safety and governance with which we work.
With anywhere between 5-7 families being supported per week through our various programs, there is always something happening and with the help of my management team we work to ensure that we secure favourable and safe outcomes for both our volunteers and the families who we are assisting via the services. We receive all sorts of requests for support and they might be anything from securing the cost of a child's soccer camp or it might be funding the repairs to a vehicle whose ignition box had been ripped out by a violent perpetrator rendering a mum and her three children immobile. Some of the things we see are absolutely outrageous and luckily, we are able to tap into our enormous support network of social media followers to let them into a world where chaos runs free and families are isolated and vulnerable. My passion lies with altruism and together, we are all able to create positive impact by providing direct solutions to families we will never meet but whose lives will be forever changed by the compassion and generosity of a stranger.
Question: What's next for RizeUp Australia?
Nicolle Edwards: Our goal for RizeUp is to become Australia's answer to the revolution against domestic and family violence. We want to become a household name where we are the Australian men's and women's voices rising up against domestic and family violence.
There are so many families whose lives have been and continue to be devastated and torn apart due to domestic and family violence and so it is imperative for RizeUp to be available and operating all across our great nation. However, for that to happen we desperately need more volunteers and corporate support for us to be able to expand. Those interested can visit our Facebook page for more information.
The time has come for each of us to take a vested interest into the welfare of our future generations. We must challenge the anti-social behaviour that thrives in the undercurrent of our society and the bystander apathy that allows domestic violence to go unchecked.
If we are committed to change the outcome for the families affected by this devastation, we have a long journey ahead of us but for us to traverse it successfully we need heed the advice of the old African proverb and do it together.
"If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."
Question: Can you share some feedback, you've had?
Nicolle Edwards: "Dear RizeUp,
I am a receiver of your service. I am writing to tell how overwhelmed and grateful I am for your thoughtfulness and kindness.
My children and I fled from DV, after 20+ years. From that moment, our lives spiralled down. We became homeless, I lost my job and for 11 months we slept in my car and couch surfed. Smashed into our circumstances was adolescents, trauma, many challenges, including threatened suicide from my (then 13y/o). It wasn't a picnic, I can assure you.
However, we have finally secured a townhouse with Dept. of Housing and thanks to you we have beds, clean fresh linen, blankets, towels, dining table, couch, kitchen appliances, shampoo, soap, etc. I am overwhelmed and so very grateful for your dedication and kindness. I may not have had the strength to 'soldier on' if it weren't for your intervention.
With the greatest of gratitude, I thank you.
(Name withheld for safety)
"Many people think that my job must be difficult because of the level of trauma and pain people who come to a domestic violence service are experiencing. From my perspective, my job is most difficult when a woman must leave her session and return home to triggering conditions. To sleep on the floor because she can't afford a bed for her and the children, maybe she had a bed but its where she was raped in her marriage and cannot lay on it without triggering her trauma, maybe it is because she is in her sixties and financial abuse means she can't afford curtains is now staring at thin bedsheets on the window to keep out prying eyes. These things cause great shame and amplify the traumatic experience of abuse. These things mean women and children return to violent homes. A world where women and children can live with their basic needs met, is a world where the healing and therapy around trauma can begin. I think RizeUp contributes to this vision by filling this gap with significant respect and generosity".
~ Domestic and Family Violence counsellor
Interview by Brooke Hunter