FOX13 Investigates: Search for Debra Stewart

By: Marius Payton

Updated:

It's a mother's pain. Every tear drop is filled with an ounce of hope.

Tunjia Akemon's 14-year-old daughter, Debra Stewart  has been missing since February 14th. A victim of what the family believes is sex trafficking. This mother believes her daughter was lured away from home by an adult who is now selling her to customers to perform sexual services.

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Last year, around the country nearly 19,000 kids were listed as runaways. One in six of those children were actually victims of human trafficking. That's nearly 3,100 kids.

The City Watch for Debra Stewart lists her as an endangered runaway. But unfortunately, that might not be the case.

“It scared me.” said Akemon. “I still don't want to believe it. I don't want to believe it but I believe it's true. Because from me doing my own investigation it breaks my heart now just thinking of it."

Debra Stewart is a 14-year-old full of life. "You can hear her listen to Taylor Swift and Jonas brothers and different things like that and she also likes her hip-hop music. Yes a typical, typical teenager," said Debra’s mother Tunjia Akemon.

And like every teenager, good or bad, Debra also lives for social media. "I've always tried to keep my children away from social media but you know they're going to find ways to get to social media," said her mother.

Unfortunately, Debra used the social media app "KIK". She was one of the 300 million registered users on the chat site. There, she met a man posing as a 15-year-old boy.

On Valentine's Day, that man lured her out of her house where he, and other men sexually assaulted her.

"I contacted MPD and let them know what was going on and about the guy that she said she was with. He was a 20 something-year-old man," said Akemon. 

Debra came home only to be lured away again. Because she wasn't physically taken, MPD refers to her as an endangered runaway. 

Debra's mom believes she was "lured away" for sex trafficking. Rachel Sumner Haaga is the Executive Director of Restore Corps. It's a group that aims to end human trafficking. 

"Last year, 18,500 kids were listed as runaways. And estimates that one in six of those are actually involved in human trafficking," said Haaga. 

In 2011, a two-year study was done by the TBI on sex trafficking involving minors in Tennessee. Shelby County was one of the worst offenders with 100 children trafficked for commercial sex.

“It scared me,” said Akemon. “I still don't want to believe it. I don't want to believe it but I believe it's true. Because from me doing my own investigation it breaks my heart now just thinking of it."

There's not a second of the day when she is not thinking of it. But it's the nights that are unbearable. 

Akemon tells FOX13 sometimes the pain in unbearable,"Going to sleep at night knowing that your baby girl is out there by herself and it just hurts it makes me so angry."   

She is in contact with MPD, but is upset that they label Debra as a teenager who likes to frequent local Memphis motels. "No girl at four thinks to herself, man I hope to grow up one day and sell my body for sex. And yet at 14, a girl is referred to as frequenting hotels?" said Haaga.

These tears are now a part of a mother's reality. They bring her strength as she makes a plea to the man who has her daughter. 

"Just drop her off somewhere and call the police anything just let her go. Debra come home baby! We miss you. All of us miss you," pleaded Akemon. 

Since the 2011 study, Tennessee has become one of the top state's in the nation supporting legislation that's more victim centered. 


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