May 5, 2019



You’re listening to Episode 39 of the Trafficking Dispatch, a biweekly podcast that briefs you on human trafficking issues in a brief amount of time. I’m your host, Victoria Erdel. In this episode, we’ll learn more about what we can do to fight organ trafficking from a long-time advocate.


In the last episode, Ariel talked about organ trafficking, a type of exploitation that is often overlooked in conversations on human trafficking. For this episode, I’m excited to interview an expert on the issue, Christina Bain, who will tell us more about the issue, why it’s overlooked, and more importantly, what we can do about it.


Victoria: So to start off, you're currently the Director of Babson College's Initiative on Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery, and in looking at your previous work, this is definitely not your first time addressing human trafficking. But since I've read your articles related to organ trafficking specifically, how did you first become interested in researching this form of human trafficking?


Christina: So, I started looking into organ trafficking around 2008, 2009. And Massachusetts being on the forefront, Boston in particular with numerous teaching hospitals being on the forefront of public health and having a research presence or all of these different medical faculty and also medical professionals who were around the Boston area. I encountered some of the most known experts on the topic of organ trafficking through just various circles that I was working in, in terms of looking at human trafficking in general. When I started the program on human trafficking and modern slavery at the Harvard Kennedy School, and I found again some of these amazing professionals who were right in the Boston area who had been looking at this, and I just felt compelled, coming again from state and coming from the Boston area where we had such a public health presence that this is something that had to be looked at and had to be addressed. And what was most notable for me too was how it could be linked with other forms of trafficking, like labor and sex trafficking, where you have cases of women who are trafficked into say a brothel, and then have a kidney forcibly removed. And so, these cases were very striking to me when I started reading more about how organ trafficking was happening, how organ trafficking doesn't necessarily have to be part of sex trafficking, labor trafficking, but it can be -- what I call multi-level equation of exploitation. So I felt immediately compelled over a decade or so ago, to look at this. So that's how I got started. And then I had an event at the Harvard Kennedy School with different medical professionals and others from Harvard Medical School, the WHO, and others to really start having a conversation about organ trafficking and how this is happening around the world. And it was just a very exciting event. So that's how I started.


Victoria: Wow, thank you so much for that explanation. So you said that obviously not every case of organ trafficking overlaps with other forms of human trafficking, but, since they do occasionally overlap with other forms of human trafficking, I'm just curious, about how prevalent...are there any numbers on the prevalence--?


Christina: We don't know. That's a great question, we do not have data, just like I'm sure you've heard from interviewing other anti-trafficking stakeholders, how the numbers and the data on human trafficking can sometimes be very hard to measures. So organ trafficking is just as difficult and we have had one study by a colleague of mine who worked for an NGO specifically looking at organ trafficking and also just organ donation and things of that nature, and how looking specifically at the trafficking of Sudanese refugees for sex and/or labor, and how also had organ trafficking as well in these cases. And so, that is really the most well known and really the only survey that I know of that really has this clear link of other forms of trafficking with it. And so that came out in 2012. So I think that there's still much need in the community to have a conversation and have good data on some of these mixed cases because when you think, "what is happening out there in terms of human trafficking cases and exploitation?" There are these times when you're going to have people who are exploited for multiple forms, because it's how much, unfortunately, you can exploit a person for. And when you have someone who's "too sick to perform or be exploited for sexual services" then let's take a kidney. It's how much can we get out of the human body as a commodity? So I believe that this is happening, you know, at various point in the world, various places in the world. And it's something that is definitely needed to look at, we're definitely needing to look at.


Victoria: Yeah, and going off of what you just said as it's something that we definitely need to look at. But it seems like it's something that a lot of people who are already interested in human trafficking, they're just not aware of it or they don't take it as seriously as other forms of human trafficking. So, why do you think that that's the case that it's kind of on the back-burner in these conversations on human trafficking?


Christina: And there's a few reasons. I mean, in the United States we actually do not include organ trafficking within our Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which is our federal law against trafficking. Most national laws in the world on human trafficking are based on the Palermo Protocols, which is the protocol that was created back in 2000 which does include organ as a form of exploitation and as a form of human trafficking in its definition. And I'm right now at this point doing an assessment of laws around the world on human trafficking, and how many of them do include organ in terms of how these laws are defining human trafficking. In the United States, we have a handful of states, including Massachusetts, that does include organ trafficking as a form of human trafficking. So that's one reason why, I think particularly in the United States, it may be a bit more from a policy perspective, it's separate. Organ trafficking is a separate law, we have something called NOTA, that is our law against organ trafficking. We've had one major case against organ trafficking in the United States. In 2009 there was a very large anti-corruption case that had organ trafficking in it, but it's not necessarily equated with organs as a form of human trafficking. So I think that there's a public policy piece of it, which is why many would not necessarily equate organ trafficking and human trafficking. There's also a bit of scholarly debate on this, I would say too, where certain parts of the anti-trafficking community and others do not feel that organ trafficking is a part of a human trafficking definition. Organ trafficking is separate and apart from human trafficking. It's not something that is like, it should be equated with sex and labor, so there's also a big debate on that, and there's a policy debate. So I think that's also part of it. I look at it in a different way. I believe, you know, how do you separate it from other forms of trafficking in the sense that, you know, it's part of the human body? It's another form of exploitation and it's another means of exploiting an individual and a vulnerable individual. So I think that that's one of the reasons why, or some of the reasons why you have this separation, and why organ trafficking is necessarily not talked about in human trafficking circles. I think also traditionally when we look at anti-trafficking stakeholders, particularly the medical community, that is working on transplantation issues, it's not necessarily invited to your average anti-trafficking conferences. The communities have been pretty separated. And I think that that's something where I'm trying to work on bridging the gap with those especially who are working in the medical profession and others, in combatting organ trafficking and looking at transplantation issues such as transplantation tourism and other areas and bringing them into the anti-trafficking community. So I think that that's something that also has made it very limiting for the public to understand how this relates to human trafficking.


Victoria: That makes a lot of sense actually because you hear in the news a lot, "nurses and doctors are joining the fight against sex trafficking" but it would make even more sense if we heard more about nurses and doctors' involvement in the fight against organ trafficking. I mean, it would make the most sense if, as you said, they helped bridge that gap between the medical field and the anti-trafficking field.


Christina: Absolutely, and they are. And what we're seeing is, I think a lot of the work on organ trafficking has been pretty much in a silo with the medical community. There are some NGOs and organizations and all sorts of studies, the illicit economy as a whole, or illicit trade, who look at drug trafficking, arms trafficking, other forms of trafficking in terms of illicit activity. Those types of experts, whether they're researchers, whether they're criminologists, whether they're law enforcement, they may be looking at organ trafficking as a part of a holistic piece of the illicit economy. But that I would say in terms of the traditional anti-trafficking stakeholder is different. You're not going to have in traditional anti-trafficking communities, I would say, a lot of conversation around organ trafficking. I think do think that there is some movement in that where I think I'm hearing more and more of different coalitions who are getting together and having conversations about it. For example, I'm now working with the financial sector, particularly with the group in Canada, which is what is a catalyst for the articles that I recently co-authored through the ACAMS network, which is a group of anti-money laundering experts, international organizations. That is an arena where now we're having these organ trafficking is linked to human trafficking. But again, it's not traditional, and I think it does go back to a lot of the public policy debate and awareness of how that debate can often fuel how the public and how the world is looking at human trafficking as a whole.


Victoria: Alright, yeah, that is interesting. And so, I just have one final, official question. Because we are a podcast that is focused specifically on young adults, we always end by asking if you have any advice for young adults who want to do something about organ trafficking or just human trafficking in general?


Christina: Sure, and I think that this is one area where we still need to spread a lot of awareness. There's a lot of misunderstanding and confusion about how organ trafficking happens. And I think that that's something where if whether you're someone who's of a high school or secondary school level if you're in college, you know, have an event or a conversation on this. Bring experts in and start having these discussions on campus and inviting your peers to join, because I think that we're still at a place where we still need to define and spread awareness, as opposed to a lot of a people of are aware, we can still do awareness on sex trafficking and secondarily labor trafficking, I think we're still spreading awareness. But particularly with organ trafficking, it's still a very unique conversation as it relates to human trafficking. So start having those conversations and start looking at what your state laws are in this, looking at the federal law, in the United States and other countries, and looking at look at other countries have a conversation about how they're addressing this. Because I think when we look at the number of kidneys and the shortage we have around the world of organs, it's such an important conversation. So even having a 15-minute soundbite and what you're doing with this podcast is amazing. And that's, multiplying it on a grander level, I think we would really spread awareness on this issue.


Ms. Bain was right that there’s a lot that needs to be done to raise awareness about organ trafficking. If you ever have any questions about the topic, she said that you can contact her at to get started in your advocacy.  Whether you decide to start doing something about organ trafficking or another form of human trafficking, the important thing is that you start!


Before we conclude this episode, I have a quick announcement. Normally, our next episode, which in this case is our season finale, would come out exactly two weeks from now. However, my co-host Ariel and I are graduating from the University of Notre Dame on that day! We’ll be really busy on that day and won’t be able to get everything uploaded and prepared like we usually would. I hope you all understand. Because of this, we’ll be uploading our season finale Thursday, May 23rd at 5 pm. As always, our season finale is an interview with a survivor, so stay tuned!


This has been the Trafficking Dispatch with Victoria Erdel. You can subscribe to our SoundCloud channel and tune into our season finale which will be released on May 23 at 5 pm. Or, if you would like to interact with us before then, you can visit our website at, follow us on our social media accounts – our handles are below – or email us with any questions or suggestions at Thank you for tuning into this episode, and we hope you’ll tune in again to join the fight against human trafficking.


Christina Bain's Contact information:


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