Tracking Evil Men: Jeff Tiegs’ Mission Continues

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Skull Games staff and volunteers gather to track down predators advertising in open source media.

Jeff Tiegs spent a little time in the area in late February, and in his brief visit, he and his associates identified 30,000 local ads selling the sexual services of women, all in publicly-accessible online media. “More than 10,000 were from separate sources,” Tiegs said. The services are advertised online, the buyer pays up, and the women are delivered, he said, “kind of like buying a pizza.”

Tiegs is the founder of Skull Games, a nonprofit that identifies and tracks down sex traffickers, then works with local police, who follow up on the information. Tiegs is a retired counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency expert with more than 27 years of service in Special Operations for the U.S. Army. He spoke at King Family Vineyards last month about the work of his young agency. He also spoke at area schools, delivering the important message to students and teachers. He believes that the problem of trafficking should be understood in plain terms, and that his work and the stories of the victims should never be sensationalized. 

In an interview before his talk in Crozet, Tiegs said there are a lot of misconceptions regarding the subject. Most of the women and girls are not kidnapped, not runaways, he said, “I think of them more as walk-aways.” Many of them are abused at home and see salvation in a boyfriend or older male who promises them an alternative. Others are simply neglected, lonely and depressed, easy prey for the promises of money and protection offered by experienced sex traffickers. Over time, they become convinced of the necessity of staying in that life, either because of addiction, fear, or hopelessness. “That’s how we came up with the name ‘Skull Games’,” Tiegs said. It was a quote by a notorious trafficker, Iceberg Slim, who said his business was “not a sex game, but a skull game.” 

Slim was right, Tiegs said. Traffickers strive to present an image of great wealth to impress women who may be struggling to survive, then subtly manipulate them by exaggerating their amount of power and control. They isolate them from family and friends, or find ways to blackmail them. Those who have been trafficked often need extensive support and counseling to realize they can be free and regain control of their own lives. Some of those women have joined Skull Games, bringing their knowledge of the players, the victims and their habits. 

Tiegs said that shame is a surprisingly powerful force for maintaining control over the victims. Young women who have sent suggestive photos, or shared intimate details of their lives, may find themselves threatened with exposure unless they comply. And once they’re in that life, they may be willing to do almost anything to avoid their families and friends knowing the truth.

Part of the role of Skull Games, as Tiegs sees it, is to educate parents and the community. “Teenage girls often become interested in tattoos, piercings, and unconventional clothing,” he said, “and that’s natural.” But he warned parents that if this is accompanied by signs of depression, that’s the time to worry. One common trait of girls who end up trafficked is low self-esteem and a lack of confidence, so parental support is vital.

That said, many of the girls have normal, happy childhoods. Michal Block, Skull Games director of intelligence, said in a video that if you go back a few years on the social media of trafficking victims, you’ll often find a girl who spends time with her family, is on the soccer or basketball team, and is active in academics. Then there’s a boyfriend, she said, and all that is forgotten: no soccer, no family activities, just the boyfriend, slowly isolating her and preparing to sell her. 

“They’re not in handcuffs,” Tiegs said. “The control is mental, emotional, psychological.”

Skull Games was formed as a nonprofit in June 2023, with an impressive staff, board of directors and volunteers with backgrounds in military leadership, intelligence, security, communications, and training. In that short time, the task force of staff and volunteers has provided hundreds of hours supporting law enforcement by identifying many dozens of predators and victims. The cooperative nature with law enforcement is essential, Tiegs said: “They’re the ones with the badges and warrants, the ones who can get predators off the streets.”

There’s another part of the mission. Skull Games also wants to educate communities and interested individuals in identifying local trafficking, and there’s a course available on the website. That’s also one of the reasons he travels and speaks around the country.

Tiegs is very interested in ways to help rehabilitate the victims by bolstering their sense of power and self-confidence. Some of the task force members provide training in jujitsu to survivors, and there are promising studies showing meaningful healing and improvement in ex-victims who practice this ancient martial art.

He noted that the core staff members of Skull Games are veterans with dozens of years of experience in hunting evil men. He said that’s no accident, and it speaks to his own reasons for founding the nonprofit. “As I got close to retirement from the Army, I started to think about how I could use my talents for good,” he said. “I was trained to be a defender, a protector, a hunter, and so I continue.”

Find more about Skull Games, including ways to volunteer and donate at skullgames.io.

Tiegs wrote a book, Where Have all the Heroes Gone? based on how the Bible informed his battlefield experiences. 

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