Interview: Jeff Tiegs and Andrea Lowe, Guardian Group
More than 200,000 children are lured into trafficking for sex each year in America.
The human trafficking industry is more profitable than the drug trade.
Human trafficking is the fastest growing crime in America.
Human trafficking is a serious issue that is plaguing our country every single day. There are people working on the front end of this issue, trying to stop this terrible act from happening and educating people to stop it in its track.
Guardian Group is doing just that.
Mace Brand had the amazing opportunity to interview Jeff Tiegs, COO of Guardian Group, and Andrea Lowe, executive assistant at Guardian Group, to learn more about the mission of Guardian Group.
Tell me about yourself Jeff and how you ended up at Guardian Group.
I joined the army back in 1987 and was active up until my retirement in 2015. I was in special operations that entire time, which gave me a new perspective on how I see the world and my individual role in the world.
Towards the end of my retirement as I was looking to what was beyond the military, I enjoyed the operations that we were doing in counter-terrorism against the criminal networks of Al-Qaida and ISIS. Looking in the civilian world, I just felt a strange calling to look into the oppression and exploitation of women and girls in the U.S., specifically sex trafficking. As I began to look into it, I saw the similarities between the exploitation cycle and how you create a radical terrorist and how you exploit children. I started to look at that methodology and we did some test cases while we were still active duty and then divine intervention; I met Jeff Keith, CEO of Guardian Group, in North Carolina at a mutual friend’s retirement party.
Jeff and I were standing in the back porch of our friend’s house at a BBQ drinking a beer. I asked him what he did and he asked what I was interested in upon retirement and it was the exact same thing. Jeff started Guardian Group in 2009 and he knew exactly where he wanted to go with the organization but he wasn’t quite sure how to do that. When we began to talk, we realized the skills that he had built with Guardian Group were the perfect place for me to move into. We partnered ways about a year before I retired from the army and upon retirement, my family and I moved to Oregon and have been expanding Guardian Group ever since.
What is Guardian Group’s mission?
Our mission is to prevent and disrupt the sex trafficking of women and children while enabling partners to identify victims and predators in the United States. That is a statement of who we are but there is a lot that is built into that. We would like to say that Guardian Group wants to “eradicate sex trafficking” but we just know that humans are humans, and there will always be men that are willing to buy sex and exploit the vulnerable.
How does Guardian Group prevent and disrupt sex trafficking?
Our partners today are American law enforcement; they are undertrained, under resourced and aren’t equipped at man hunting. We help them from the front end of it; illuminating the problem, developing leads and we also help them get behind the obstacles that they run into. We do all of this through open media (Internet).
Human trafficking is advertised, making this a perfect crime for a civilian organization/non-profit to partner with law enforcement. We don’t need credentials or extra access. People have to advertise their product and in this case their product is girls/women. They have to have a way for the buyer to connect with the girl. So with that, there are clues all over the Internet to help develop these target lines for law enforcement to dig into.
Where on the Internet do you see these types of advertisements?
There are dozens and dozens of sites where these people go where they advertise and sell these girls, just like how you would buy a lawn mower or a piece of furniture.
There is a cycle that happens on the Internet; recruiting, assessment, luring. This all happens online and the predators/pimps/traffickers trick and fools these girls into this life. Not only are we looking at the back end but we are trying to prevent it and predict it early on.
How many people are on Guardian Group team?
Currently, we have a total of 7 employees. Guardian Group follows a special forces model, where you have your headquarters, which is also referred to as the mission support site (MSS), located in Oregon, and our goal and vision is to plant teams and operation centers partnered with law enforcement across the US.
We also have an offense and defense side. While we already work somewhere between 20-25 states and 60-70 law enforcement agencies, we are doing that all from a central location, which is the offense side. The defense side is trying to get the public and the corporate communities that are being exploited and manipulated by this crime, to understand what it looks like.
We built an online training course for the hotel industry to help make employees aware of what this crime looks like. While this crime lives on the Internet, the physical link up takes place predominately at hotels. It can be seen if the employees know what they are looking for. We have thousands that are on our defense side, who are educated and trained to look for this crime and report it.
If we sat you down and I explained to you what this crime looks like, you would realize that you have seen it and you will see it next time that you travel.
Talk to me more about the online training course for hotels.
We built an online course specifically for the hotel industry, where they can buy it online. We are in the process of rolling the online course out and expanding it. We basically want to get hotels more involved from a strategy perspective.
When you think of the 60,000 hotels across the U.S., if every single hotel was trained to report and was an active resistance to this exploitation, imagine what that would do to this crime. If we could wave a magic wand, all hotels would all be trained and have the Guardian Seal on their front door.
What can an individual do to help out with Guardian Group’s mission?
There are three things from an organization point of view to help us out:
- Support us financially
- Help refer us to other corporations who want to take a stand against this crime.
- Send talent and volunteers to Guardian Group
The other part I want to talk about is from an individual level and how you at home can help us out. We have to do a better job at building the confidence and self-esteem of girls/women.
Somewhere along the line, we are turning too many men into predators and turning too many girls/women to be easily manipulated and exploited. We need to do a better job so they are confident by the way that they carry themselves and confident by the way they represent themselves online. Girls/women need to stop sharing vulnerabilities and recognizing that there are predators that are trying to exploit them. This goes for online presence and your day-to-day living. Everyone needs to find a way to help reinforce the confidence and capabilities of women.