A “predatory” young woman who posed as a teenage boy to sexually assault girls as young as 13 after grooming them online has been jailed for eight years.
Gemma Watts, 21, travelled across the UK in disguise by train to meet the girls, who believed she was their boyfriend and close to their own age.
She was sentenced at Winchester Crown Court on Friday after pleading guilty to seven sexual assault and grooming charges.
The offences relate to four girls, including a 13-year-old from Hampshire and two 14-year-olds and a 16-year-old from Surrey, Plymouth and the West Midlands.
But police believe there could be up to 50 victims.
Watts was “adept at both manipulating people and the continuing subterfuge”, prosecutor Barnaby Shaw told the court.
One of her teenage victims, in an impact statement read to the court, said her “heart exploded” and her “world stopped” when police revealed Watts’ true identity to her.
She said she has self harmed and considered suicide since then and added: “She is in my head.”
Watts, from Enfield in north London, tied her hair into a bun and wore a baseball cap, baggy tracksuit bottoms and a hoodie to convince the girls she was 16-year-old “Jake Waton”.
Using her own picture on Jake’s Snapchat and Instagram accounts, she targeted girls by liking their profiles.
From her mother’s home, where she lived, she shared skateboarding videos, used teenage slang and flattered her victims with complimentary messages, calling them “babe” and other pet names.
She would exchange messages with them, including intimate photographs, using WhatsApp, Snapchat or text, and speak over the phone before meeting in person.
Watts, once a promising footballer, was so convincing she even spent time as Jake with some of the girls’ parents.
All of her victims believed they were going out with a teenage boy until police revealed she was an adult woman.
Sentencing her, judge Susan Evans QC said: “There was, it seems to me, planning and in some way predatory behaviour. Their age, as you plainly knew, made it more likely that they would be sexually naive, enabling you to get away with your deception.”
Watts was also put on the sex offenders register for life and a sexual harm prevention order was issued preventing her from having contact with anyone under the age of 18.
Detective Constable Phillipa Kenwright, from the Metropolitan Police, said: “It’s been life-changing for all of the victims involved. They believed they were in a relationship with a young teenage boy, to then find out this was actually a female.
“For some of these girls it was their first relationship. She’s duped them the whole time.
“A lot of these victims are young, quite innocent. They have been completely taken in by Gemma Watts. They all believed they were in a relationship with a male.”
Investigators identified a total of seven victims – some who do not want to give a statement – but they believe there are many more.
“I think there will be further victims, who were in a relationship with Watts, who will now realise she is a woman,” DC Kenwright said.
“I think there could be 20 to 50. I think she had been grooming other young victims online using social media profiles, which are very believable.”
Watts was caught out when a doctor raised concerns with Hampshire Police in March 2018 that a girl was in a relationship with an older boy.
After admitting in July that year she had been sexually active as Jake with the first three victims, the Met Police got involved as they believed there could be more.
She was released under investigation by Hampshire Police but arrested again three months later by British Transport Police who found her with the fourth girl, from the West Midlands, after her parents reported her missing.
Officers initially believed Watts was Jake and were taking her home to London as they made the link.
Scotland Yard issued a civil Sexual Risk Order in November 2018 for her to protect the public, but she breached it after a fortnight.
She was held on remand for a sexual assault in March last year but was freed in August when she was acquitted.
Watts was finally charged in September and pleaded guilty to seven offences in November:
- Assault by penetration, sexual assault and grooming against a 13-year-old girl from Hampshire;
- Sexual assault and grooming against a 14-year-old girl from Surrey;
- Grooming a 14-year-old girl from Plymouth;
- Sexual assault against a 16-year-old girl from the West Midlands.