RICHMOND, VA (InvestigateTV) - 1.5 billions users access social media network Facebook every day-however Facebook admits that some of those users are not allowed to be on their platform.
People like 56-year-old Robert Gale Wojda are who Facebook refers to. Wojda has been convicted five times of child exploitation offenses in Florida, Ohio, and Virginia.
“Part of his probation was that he was no supposed to be on social media of any kind, whatsoever,” said Detective Mary Gary Ford with the Virginia Major Crimes Unit. “Thankfully his probation officer just checked. It was a very traumatic experience for her, and she was isolated and alone and kind of containing all this inside herself for a long time.”
Wodja is far from the only convicted predator using social media.
“The frightening part is the number of people doing what they’re doing and that’s just what’s being reported,” said Ford.
Facebook has a specific policy that bans convicted sex offenders, but in just three and a half hours our investigation easily tracked down registered sex offenders in 7 different states with what appeared to be active Facebook profiles. From Florida to West Virginia and Louisiana, offenders of all races, genders and ages were found. An Ohio man labeled a sexual predator, a 35-year-old woman in Kentucky convicted of raping a 13-year-old, a Virginia man who enticed a minor to perform in pornography, and another convicted of raping a 15-year-old in Alabama. The investigation found so many offenders on Facebook in such a short time that they eventually stopped looking and reported the findings to Facebook. The social network immediately launched an investigation and disabled the accounts.
“You never know who you’re talking to on the other side of the computer,” saus Briana Valentino. Valentino works with the Stop Child Abuse Now, or S.C.A.N., organization. “They are online all the time. so, what ends up happening is that kids are very accessible to people who mean to do them harm. They also don’t realize that if they’re on multiple sites, then they’re accessible through those multiple sites and somebody who’s knowledgeable about those things can tie all that information together.”
Wodja pleaded no contest to electronic solicitation of a minor and is now serving 20 years in a Virginia prison. His capture is a victory for Ford, that’s why she knows there are more predators out there. That’s why she needs parents to help and have age appropriate, non-judgmental conversations with their children now.
“This is something that could happen,” said Ford. “If it does, just stop what you’re doing, come to me. Talk to me. We’ll work it out together, you’re not in trouble.”
Ford says there are steps you can take to be proactive. First, we know our kids are attached to their phones, but experts say they should not have them in their bedrooms at night. Consider this rule: tablets and computers should only be used in open areas of the house. Do your research and know the apps that are out there. One hides photos and it looks like a calculator.
If you believe a convicted sex offender is actively operating a profile on Facebook, you can report the account directly to Facebook here.