Human Rights Human Rights
Photo Credit: Jeff Tiegs

Interviewing the COO of Guardian Group, Jeff Tiegs

Jeff Tiegs, COO of Guardian Group, is a hunter of men. Since his time in the military where he excelled as an Army Ranger, Green Beret, and later a member of the Unit, Tiegs hasn’t stopped taking the fight to those who hurt the innocent.

Today, he helps run Guardian Group, an organization that works in concert with law enforcement to stop human traffickers.

Strike Source connected with Tiegs to talk about Guardian Group and how the organization is making an impact in the world.

Q: What is the Guardian Group?

A: The Guardian Group is a 501c3 non-profit that is specifically built to offer assistance to resource-constrained law enforcement and support in domestic counter sex trafficking. Like any good team, there is a need for a good offense and a good defense. Our defense is training, awareness, and education. Our offense is direct support to law enforcement. We identify victims of sex trafficking that are being sold online and push that information to law enforcement so that they can conduct an operation to try to get that victim on a path to freedom.

Q: A lot of what Guardian Group does requires a specialized skill set. Where do the folks who work in the organization come from?

A: The skillsets can be learned. We are developing a program to bring in more people to train them on the tactics, techniques, and procedures that we use. Guardian Group is purpose-built to hire retired veterans. I come from a Special Operations background. We, as a nation, need to do a better job of re-purposing our veterans. That was one reason we built Guardian Group: to re-purpose and re-task men and women coming out of Special Forces in the operations and intelligence fields. America has invested money and resources in developing these people and their skillsets.

They have spent a career solving tough problems and hunting terrorists. We want to re-purpose them to bring the fight to sex trafficking in the U.S. by identifying the victims and the predators out there. We do it all through Open Source Intelligence, which is an arm of the Department of Defense and the U.S. military. This underground commercial sex economy is out there staring us in the face and waiting for information to be pulled and analyzed to identify these women and kids who are exploited.

Q: There is a wide range of crimes when I think of them, although some of the crimes may be a little different; I attribute them to be different branches on the same tree. The buying and selling of children for sex, the distribution of child pornography, and the so-called slave trade take part in different areas of the world. Could you explain the scope of the crime related to the focus that Guardian Group covers?

A: Looking at this from the top down, it is all called Human Trafficking. Split that into two elements; Labor Trafficking and Sex Trafficking. The two can be equated to modern-day slavery. We are going to follow Human Trafficking. We have got illicit massage parlors, and we have residential brothels, escort ads, and the online sex trade. When talking about child pornography and pedophilia, the number of these “humans” who want to have sex with children is small, it is a niche market, and it is not an open market. Think of commercial sex as a business and industry.

Photo Credit: Jeff Tiegs

Now with the open market that resides on the internet, anyone in America can purchase a girl at any time during the day – this is the online commercial sex industry. There are 150k new sex ads per day.  It is mostly women being sold, which is our focus, and more specifically, the minors. We estimate that there are close to a million minors being sold online. The reason Guardian Group is focused on the online sex trade is that it is where the highest probability of finding minors is. There are minors involved in commercial sex on these escort sites. It is not that the buyer necessarily wants to have sex with a minor, they want to have sex with a pretty young girl. As long as the “customers” are told the girls are 18 or older, they are satisfied with that. Here is the catch: traffickers have figured out that the most vulnerable ages for recruiting and groom victims are between 13 and 17. Those young women are in that developmental stage and are looking for a boyfriend or building their self-esteem.

Q: There has been considerably more attention to the topic of human trafficking in recent times. What are some resources for people interested in learning more about the crime, and ways they can contribute to countering the crime?

A: The recent focus on human trafficking is good with a downside. There is a lack of understanding of how prolific this is at the lowest levels. With the emergence of the Epstein case, people want to place sex trafficking at the highest levels of power and wealth. Looking at it as a market, the perpetrators and the victims are both largely from “middle America”. It is both the lower social and economic classes and the higher social and economic classes that are buying sex. There are several lessons to be learned from the Jeffery Epstein case. The role of Ghislaine Maxwell concerning her role in the crime was as a recruiter and groomer. People look at this crime as solely being done by men.

Ninety percent of the traffickers are male. There is always a female that is very much involved in the management, the recruiting, and very often the breaking [of the victim] and continued facilitation of the act. Maxwell appears to be a big player in that. If you watch the Epstein documentary, you will see these girls that were brought in under the auspicious of just giving a guy a massage. However, it gets pivoted to a sex act. They go home ashamed, afraid, and they do not know what to do. Many of them, in turn, end up recruiting other girls. It is a tough spot to be in. There are lessons to be learned.

When it comes to resources, there are a lot out there. Polaris Project is an excellent resource for crime in the United States. The International Justice Mission looks overseas. There is the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. There are some excellent programs for the aftercare and the shelters for restoring victims to normalcy. Guardian Group is unique with what we do when it comes to balancing our offense and defense. We want to invite people to check out our website. We have a new podcast that we have developed. Listen to it for a couple of hours and understand this crime in detail. The second season of our podcast is going to be about survivor stories; letting women telling their stories of what they went through and how they survived and thrived. We also have an online training course that we are releasing on August 1st. It is an advanced counter sex trafficking program.

We currently have a basic course that can be accessed on our website. I invite folks to take a look at our stuff. We have a wide variety of resources in the form of content and information. Again, it is particular to online commercial sex trafficking.