/Woman, 21, posed as a 16-year-old boy to sexually assault as many as 50 girls

Woman, 21, posed as a 16-year-old boy to sexually assault as many as 50 girls

A 21-year-old woman who posed as a teenage boy to sexually assault up to 50 girls as young as 13 after grooming them online has today been jailed for eight years. 

Gemma Watts, from Enfield, north London, travelled the country by train to meet the youngsters, who believed they were in a relationship with a boy close to their own age.

Disguised with her long hair tied into a bun and wearing a baseball cap, baggy jogging bottoms and a hoodie, Watts convinced them she was 16-year-old ‘Jake Waton’.

She would then swap messages with victims, including intimate photographs, using WhatsApp, Snapchat, or text, and speak over the phone before meeting them in person.

Watts, who once had a promising football career, was jailed today at Winchester Crown Court today after pleading guilty to seven charges including assault by penetration, sexual assault and grooming.

Prosecutor Barnaby Shaw said Watts was ‘adept at both manipulating people and the continuing subterfuge’. 

The charges she pleaded guilty to 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. 

One of her teenage victims, in an impact statement read to the court, said that her ‘heart exploded’ when police revealed Watts’ true identity to her.

In one instance, Watts sexually assaulted the girl in her mother’s bedroom. The court heard how Watts lied to one girl about why her bedroom was pink, saying it was because of a female cousin. 

Gemma Watts (pictured arriving at Winchester Crown Court today) from Enfield, north London, travelled the country by train to meet the youngsters, who believed they were in a relationship with a boy close to their own age

Gemma Watts (pictured arriving at Winchester Crown Court today) from Enfield, north London, travelled the country by train to meet the youngsters, who believed they were in a relationship with a boy close to their own age

Gemma Watts (pictured arriving at Winchester Crown Court today) from Enfield, north London, travelled the country by train to meet the youngsters, who believed they were in a relationship with a boy close to their own age

Watts used her own picture on Jake’s Snapchat and Instagram accounts, targeting girls by liking their profiles. 

Watts, who lived at home with her mother in Enfield, north London, shared skateboarding videos, used teenage slang and flattered them with complimentary messages, calling them ‘babe’ or other pet names.

She was so convincing that she even spent time as Jake with some of the girls’ parents. Even police at one point believed she was a boy. 

Prosecutor Barnaby Shaw said: ‘The defendant practised a persistent course of deceit on four young teenage girls and indeed members of their family.

‘These victims were not consenting to sexual activity because they were deceived into thinking that Gemma Watts was a boy.’

Gemma Watts, 21 (pictured) from Enfield, travelled the country by train to meet the youngsters, who believed they were in a relationship with a boy close to their own age.

Gemma Watts, 21 (pictured) from Enfield, travelled the country by train to meet the youngsters, who believed they were in a relationship with a boy close to their own age.

Gemma Watts posing as Jake

Gemma Watts posing as Jake

Gemma Watts, 21 (left, and right, as ‘Jake’) from Enfield, travelled the country by train to meet the youngsters, who believed they were in a relationship with a boy close to their own age.

In one case, when Watts was staying at the home of one of her victims for several days, family members became suspicious of things she said and did.

In a statement read out in court, one of Watts’ victims said her ‘heart exploded’ and her ‘world stopped’ when police told her ‘Jake’ was in fact an adult woman.

Gemma Watts, from Enfield, north London, travelled the country by train to meet the youngsters, who believed they were in a relationship with a boy close to their own age

Gemma Watts, from Enfield, north London, travelled the country by train to meet the youngsters, who believed they were in a relationship with a boy close to their own age

Gemma Watts, from Enfield, north London, travelled the country by train to meet the youngsters, who believed they were in a relationship with a boy close to their own age

The girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said: ‘When the police told me Jake was in fact called Gemma I thought this was not really real.’

She said she has self harmed and considered suicide since then and added: ‘She is in my head.’

Another victim also described the devastating impact of Watts’ crimes, saying: ‘I always wonder if someone knew is who they say they are.

‘I put a lot of trust in Jake and I feel it was all just a lie.’

All of Watts’ victims believed they were in a relationship with a teenage boy until police informed them she was in fact an adult woman. 

Watts continued to prey on young girls and sexually assault them, despite being under police investigation and subject to a sexual risk order where officers would monitor her movements and visit her at her home. 

Jailing her for eight years, Judge Susan Evans told Watts: ‘You made a conscious decision to use a false identity in order to enter into relationships with young females with a view to sexual activity with them for your own gratification.

‘All of the females you targeted were vulnerable because of their age but also because some of them had been subjected to previous bullying. Their age made it more likely they would be sexually naive, enabling you to get away with your deception.

Watts, who once had a promising football career, was jailed today at Winchester Crown Court today after pleading guilty to seven charges including assault by penetration, sexual assault and grooming

Watts, who once had a promising football career, was jailed today at Winchester Crown Court today after pleading guilty to seven charges including assault by penetration, sexual assault and grooming

Watts, who once had a promising football career, was jailed today at Winchester Crown Court today after pleading guilty to seven charges including assault by penetration, sexual assault and grooming

‘None of them would have consented to sexual activity with you if they had known your true identity.’ 

The judge added: ‘You are still and your age at the time of some of those offences was quite young. 

Timeline of Gemma Watts’ offending that began in March 2018

March 2018: Watts was first brought to police attention when a doctor treating her first victim, 14, raised concerns that the girl was in a relationship with an older boy, now known to be Watts.

April 2018: Hampshire Police speak to the victim and begin looking for Jake Waton, who they later discovered was Watts.

May 2018: Warrant was executed at Watts’s home address and she was voluntarily interviewed. She denied being Jake, travelling to Hampshire or knowing the 14-year-old girl.

July 2018: Watts is arrested after the first victim’s mother told police ‘Jake’ had a new girlfriend. Two further victims are identified by police. Watts gave no comment until she finally admitted to being Jake and being ‘sexually active’ but denied penetration. 

Watts invited a fourth known victim to London, a 15-year-old girl who she sexually assaulted.

But before their arrival, Watts was arrested in the West Midlands by British Transport Police who discovered the teenager had been reported missing by her parents.

November 2018: Watts is handed an interim sexual risk order from Stratford magistrates’ court. Two weeks later she had breached the order due to committing a burglary at a school and being in the company of a 15-year-old boy. 

She was found not guilty of the burglary but charged with breaching the sexual risk order and she was sentenced to two months in prison, reduced to a 12 month community order following her appeal.

March 2019: Police discovered Watts had gone to Kent to visit a friend. Officers phoned her and realised she was in the company of a child. Watts had met the 17-year-old female as Gemma. 

Watts was arrested again for breaching the order. Two days later the teenage girl reported being sexually assaulted by Watts. She was arrested in March, charged and remanded until trial

August 2019: Watts is found not guilty of the sexual offence

September 2019: Charges are authorised by the Crown Prosecution Service against Watts in relation to the initial investigation by Hampshire Police where Watts groomed and sexually assaulted teenage girls. 

November 2019:  Watts pleads guilty to seven offences in November, which include Assault by penetration, sexual assault and grooming against 14-year-old girl from Hampshire; Sexual assault and grooming against a 15-year-old girl from Surrey; Grooming a 15-year-old girl from Plymouth and Sexual assault against a 15-year-old girl from the West Midlands.  

‘You have an IQ at the lower percentile and that is an important factor. You are not only young but you are young for your years intellectually and emotionally.

‘Your age and immaturity combined with issues about your own sexuality goes some way to explaining your behaviour.

‘You do not seem to have appreciated just how serious your behaviour has been and the effect you have had upon your victims.

‘You are likely now that you are older, to be more confident when presenting yourself as a lesbian female and being involved in adult consensual relationships.’

As well as jailing Watts for eight years, Judge Evans made her subject to an indefinite Sexual Harm Prevention Order and told her she would be on the sex offenders’ register for life as well as being barred from working from any children or vulnerable people. 

Speaking outside court after the sentencing, Detective Chief Inspector Nicholas Plummer from Hampshire Police said: ‘This is a truly shocking case, we are very pleased with the sentence that the judge has passed today.

‘It serves as a reminder of the lengths that a perpetrator will go to to exploit children or other vulnerable people.

‘To those that do harm to children in our community this should serve as a warning that victims will stand up against you and we will seek to support them in providing justice through the courts.’

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,’ she continued.

‘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 have identified a total of seven victims, some of whom don’t want to give a statement.

But DC Kenwright said: ‘I think there will be further victims, who were in a relationship with Watts, who will now realise she is a woman.’

‘I think there could be 20 to 50,’ she continued. I think she had been grooming other young victims online using social media profiles, which are very believable.’

Watts, who was unemployed, was first brought to police attention in March 2018.

Her first known victim, aged just 14, made a disclosure to her doctor who contacted social services and Hampshire Police to raise concerns that a girl was in a relationship with an older boy. 

Officers spoke to the victim the following month and began looking for Jake Waton who they later believed to be Gemma Watts.

In May 2018, a warrant was executed at Gemma’s home address and she was voluntarily interviewed.

She denied being Jake, travelling to Hampshire or knowing the 14-year-old girl and continued to reoffend immediately after, despite being under investigation.

Watts, who once had a promising football career, is facing jail at Winchester Crown Court (pictured) today after pleading guilty to seven sexual assault and grooming charges

Watts, who once had a promising football career, is facing jail at Winchester Crown Court (pictured) today after pleading guilty to seven sexual assault and grooming charges

Watts, who once had a promising football career, is facing jail at Winchester Crown Court (pictured) today after pleading guilty to seven sexual assault and grooming charges

The 14-year-old victim’s mother then contacted police and warned Jake appeared to have a new girlfriend and two further victims were identified and spoke to by officers. 

Gemma was then arrested in July 2018 and gave no comment interviews until a fourth interview when she made admissions to being Jake, being sexually active with the victims but denied the penetration.

Posing as Jake, Watts invited a fourth known victim to London, a 15-year-old girl who she sexually assaulted.

But before their arrival, Watts was arrested in the West Midlands by British Transport Police who discovered the teenager had been reported missing by her parents.

Upon Watts’ arrest, BTP officers also believed they were speaking with a young male.

In November 2018, Watts was handed an interim sexual risk order from Stratford mags court.

But within just two weeks she had breached the order due to committing a burglary at a school and being in the company of a 15-year-old boy.

She was found not guilty of the burglary but charged with breaching the sexual risk order and she was sentenced to two months in prison which was reduced to a 12 month community order following her appeal.

Met officers were then able to monitor Watts’ movements due to the sexual risk order by home visits and monitoring.

During a home visit in March 2019, police discovered she had gone to Kent to visit a friend. Officers phoned her and realised she was in the company of a child. Watts had met the 17-year-old female as Gemma.

She was told to return to London where she was again arrested for breaching the sexual risk order.

Two days later the teenage girl reported being sexually assaulted by Watts, who was bailed by West Midlands police.

She was arrested in March, charged and remanded until trial in August 2019 when she was found not guilty of the sexual offence at Wood Green Crown Court.

But she pleaded guilty to breaching her sexual risk order in November in relation to the same incident.

In September last year, charges were authorised by the Crown Prosecution Service against Watts in relation to the initial investigation by Hampshire Police where Watts groomed and sexually assaulted teenage girls. 

Watts was finally charged in September and pleaded guilty to seven offences in November, which include Assault by penetration, sexual assault and grooming.

But despite her guilty plea and repeat offending, she was again granted bail before sentencing today.

An NSPCC spokesperson said: ‘Watts is clearly an extremely dangerous individual who went to depraved lengths to manipulate and abuse young girls.

‘This case highlights how sexual predators use social media to prey on children for their own gratification – and that more needs to be done to protect children on these platforms.

‘We hope the survivors of this horrific ordeal are now receiving the support they need to help them move forward.’

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