Times caption: Gemma Watts sexually assaulted girls as young as 14 while posing as a teenage boy (PAS)
A piece in today’s Times:
A woman who duped up to 50 teenage girls and their parents by pretending she was a boy so that she could sexually assault them has been jailed for eight years.
Gemma Watts, 21, groomed the girls with an elaborate online identity, presenting herself as Jake Waton, a 16-year-old boy who liked skateboarding and scootering.
Watts cultivated intimate relationships with victims as young as 14, sharing intimate photographs and travelling across the country to meet them. She stayed at one victim’s house for days at a time.
The paedophile disguised her gender by tying her long hair into a bun under a baseball cap and wearing baggy jogging bottoms.
Watts flattered the girls, some of whom had been bullied and were vulnerable, with compliments on their looks but later blackmailed and threatened them by sending images of knives.
She was sentenced yesterday on seven offences of sexually assaulting four girls, all of whom only discovered that she was an adult woman and not a teenage boy when told by police.
In a victim impact statement, a 14-year-old girl said that she had attempted suicide after finding out Watts’s true identity. Her “world stopped” and her “heart exploded” when she discovered that Jake was not who she thought he was.
“Jake was such an amazing person, I felt like I could tell him anything,” the girl said.
Another victim said: “When I started speaking to a boy I felt like I found someone I could really trust. I had really strong feelings and confided in him and told him things I never told anyone before. He made me feel special . . . But then I was told he was a woman, I was shocked that he lied to me. I was embarrassed.”
Winchester crown court was told how Watts, who was 19 at the time of her offending, used Snapchat and Instagram to groom her victims, beginning her predatory behaviour by liking their posts and sharing skateboarding videos with a “very convincing” profile picture of her as Jake.
She preyed upon her first known victim in November 2017 after leaving a comment on a YouTube video under the profile of Jake Waton, which a 14-year-old girl had liked.
The pair began chatting on Snapchat, then agreed for Jake to come and meet her in Eastleigh, Hampshire.
They began a relationship which led to Jake staying at her house four days a week for several weeks, with Watts manipulating the girl’s parents who believed that their daughter’s teenage boyfriend was staying on their sofa. Watts and the girl sometimes took a bath together, although she remained partially clothed and continued wearing her hat.
Watts sexually assaulted the girl the day after first meeting her, and continued to do so in her home, sometimes in the girl’s mother’s bedroom.
In April 2018 the girl’s doctor contacted social services and Hampshire police with concerns that an underage patient was having a relationship with an older man after the girl’s mother took her for medical treatment required for a sexual assault.
The girl’s mother later contacted police again to say that Jake’s social media profiles appeared to show that he had a new girlfriend.
Following investigations, Hampshire police discovered that Jake Waton, about whom the complaint had been made, was a 19-year-old woman named Gemma Watts.
Watts was arrested in July. She denied pretending to be Jake, or knowing the complainants. She was released under investigation, meaning that she was under no restrictions.
She was arrested again in October after she went to meet what transpired to be her fourth known victim, a 15-year-old girl who she persuaded to return with her to London. The girl’s mother then reported her missing to the police.
Watts and the child were stopped by officers from British Transport Police, who also believed that Watts was a boy named Jake. They realised that she was a woman while driving her home.
Watts admitted seven counts of sexually assault and grooming four teenage girls, including assault by penetration in November at Winchester crown court in November.
Detectives investigating the case fear, however, that there may be between 20 to 50 victims, encouraging more to come forward.
Detective Constable Phillipa Kenwright said: “I don’t think the first [known] victim was the first victim. We’ve identified seven victims, but some didn’t wish to provide a statement.
“I personally feel there is a number of other victims that we don’t know about. There could be 20 to 50.
“I think she had been grooming other young victims online using social-media profiles which are very believable.
“For some of these girls it was their first relationship . . . She’s duped them the whole time.”
DCI Nick Plummer, of Hampshire Constabulary, added: “As part of our efforts we have reached out across the UK — we think the number is potentially 50 who have had contact. She was probably trying to target many more but was knocked back.”
Scotland Yard were contacted by Hampshire police and the London force secured a civil sexual-risk order in November 2018 to protect the public.
Condemning Watts, Judge Susan Evans, QC said: “There was planning and predatory behaviour, they were all vulnerable because of their age but also because they had been bullied and had low self-confidence.
“Their age made it clear they would be sexually naive and that you could get away with your deception and carry out the sexual activity with them.
“They were far too young — none of them would have consented to sexual activity with you if they knew your true identity. Each has suffered harm as a result of your offending.
“It’s a worrying feature that you have constantly failed to abide with the police and continued to offend knowing you were under investigation.
“It’s apparent you don’t seem to realise just how serious this has been on your victims.”
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