Francesca Douglass-Franco calls herself a modern abolitionist.
Her work, as the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Humansave, is meant to educate the community and prevent human trafficking as well as help survivors live a life of empowerment and fulfillment, she said.
The 28-year-old, who lives in Long Beach with her husband and young daughter, was working in law enforcement before she started Humansave in 2017. At the time, Douglass-Franco said she could see that investigators were working hard to catch criminal activity, but there wasn’t a real safety net after that for victims, who easily returned to the same cycles of abuse.
“There was a gap, no programs for them — so they (human trafficking victims) were going right back,” she said.
Human trafficking, Douglass-Franco said, is a criminal activity that she finds especially disturbing, particularly as a mom. Illegal transport of people for forced labor or sexual exploitation is something she said she wants to do something about.
“The fact that it was a global issue that no one was talking about and one of human dignity,” is what she said caught her attention, noting that there are an estimated 40 million victims all over the world, and about 25% of those are children.
Having immigrated at age 5 from the Philippines, where human trafficking was a more prominent issue, Douglass-Franco said she was surprised and horrified to find that it was also happening to American kids in the same neighborhood where she’s now raising her own daughter.
Douglass-Franco said she wanted to make a difference where she knew she could, applying her unique background and education in law enforcement and psychology to creating a nonprofit that offers mental health treatment and life skills curriculum for victims. She also does awareness and prevention programs and offers clinical training for service providers.
Her mom, Dr. Mary Ann Franco, who lives in Portugal, serves as Humansave’s clinical director and remotely trains the local team of six therapists who have so far helped victims that include more than 100 families in Long Beach, Los Angeles, Orange County, Riverside and San Bernardino.
The Douglass-Franco scrappy mixed-breed family pet and therapy dog, Kahlua, also helps out, putting survivors at ease during the intake process.
Humansave doesn’t have an office, but it’s based in Long Beach and Douglass-Franco is a board member for the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce’s Women’s Business Council. Many victims are referred to Humansave through the Long Beach Human Trafficking Task Force, with which Humansave is active, but the organization is mobile and serves a wide area wherever there’s a need.
Douglass-Franco emphasized that Long Beach will always be home base.
“I’ve lived in Long Beach since I was 5 and completed first grade through university here, so it means a lot to me to be able to help this community,” she said. “My daughter just finished kinder(garten) here as well, and I think that certainly ignited my passion for wanting to make a difference in the schools here.”
Humansave, she said, is working with area businesses, including hotels, and Long Beach Unified School District to train workers and teachers to spot potential human trafficking cases. That’s one area where she’d like Humansave to grow, she said, and she’s seeking donations and sponsorships to do so.
In the meantime, as she helps educate an entire community about human trafficking issues, Douglass-Franco said she’s still figuring out how to explain what she does at work every day to own her daughter.
“It’s hard to explain what I do to a 5-year-old,” she said. “But it’s even harder to think that there are victims younger than she is.”