Gemma Watts is the British woman who has been sentenced to eight years behind bars after admitting to police that she pretended to be a teenage boy in order to “groom” young girls.
The Metropolitan Police in London says Watts may have sexually assaulted as many as 50 victims, who all believed Watts was a boy named Jake Watton. Watts, 21, communicated with the teenage girls over social media, using the alias, before arranging to meet them in-person.
Watts pleaded guilty to several charges including sexual assault, assault by penetration and meeting a child following sexual grooming in November of 2019. A judge at Winchester Crown Court issued the sentence on January 10, 2020. Watts will also be listed as a sexual offender for the rest of her life.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Gemma Watts Tricked Multiple Teens & Parents Into Believing She Was a Boy
Gemma Watts created fake profiles on Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat to connect with teenage girls, police say. She disguised herself as a 16-year-old boy named Jake Watton or Waton. She would tie her long hair back and hide it under a baseball hat, and disguise her female figure under baggy clothing.
Police say Watts would message back and forth with the young girls over extended amounts of time. She would flatter the girls and exchange photos until the teens agreed to meet in-person. Police say Watts traveled to different parts of the country to meet with the girls. Her disguise was good enough to even trick several parents who also met Watts, according to the BBC.
The outlet cited one of the prosecutors, Barnaby Shaw, who explained in court that one of the victims “dated” Watts for three months. The victim told police that during an overnight encounter, she thought she was touching a male body part but later realized it “must have been a number of socks tightly rolled together.”
Nicola Benson from the Hampshire Constabulary’s Missing and Exploited Team said of the case, “The level of manipulation and deceit used by Watts to snare her victims in this case was truly shocking. Children are particularly vulnerable to exploitation online with increased use of social media apps, and there is a real risk that any contact with a stranger online can lead to a child meeting an offender in person.”
2. Police Began Investigating Gemma Watts After a Teen Girl Told Her Doctor That Her Boyfriend, ‘Jake Watton,’ Had Sexually Assaulted Her
Police first identified Gemma Watts during an investigation that began in April of 2018. A 14-year-old girl from Hampshire confided to her doctor that her older boyfriend, “Jake Watton,” had sexually assaulted her, according to a release from the Metropolitan Police.
The doctor reported this to the local police department. The Met’s Central Specialist Crime unit was also alerted to the investigation. Police soon discovered that “Jake Watton” did not exist, but was actually Gemma Watts, who was 19 at the time.
The Evening Standard reported that when questioned, Watts denied knowing the 14-year-old girl. She also denied posing as a teenage boy named Jake.
3. Gemma Watts Was Arrested After Police Discovered Additional Victims & This Time, Watts Confessed to Posing as ‘Jake Watton’
Gemma Watts was arrested in July of 2018 on suspicion of committing sexual crimes against teenage girls. Police explained in a news release that between April and July, investigators identified two additional victims who said they had been sexually assaulted by “Jake Watton.” Both of the girls were younger than 18.
Watts confessed to police that she had posed as a teenage boy, and admitted to “grooming” the victims. Police say she “partially admitted” to a number of the assaults as well. Watts was released from custody as the investigation continued.
But while on bail, police say Watts continued to reach out to young girls. In October of 2018, Watts was found with a 15-year-old girl who had been reported missing. According to Birmingham Live, officers who stopped the pair were initially fooled into thinking that Watts was a 16-year-old boy and were planning to take her home before realizing “Jake” was really an adult woman. The 15-year-old girl told police that “Jake” had sexually assaulted her and Watts was arrested again.
4. Police: All of the Victims Believed They Were In a Relationship With a Boy; at Least Two of the Victims Reportedly Attempted to Harm Themselves In the Aftermath
Detective Constable Phillipa Kenwright from the Metropolitan Police says that Gemma Watts “spun a web of lies and deceit” and “duped” the victims into “believing they were entering into a relationship with someone whom they could trust.” Kenwright also told local news outlets that although the investigation identified seven victims, she believes there could be as many as 50.
The impact of the truth has been devastating for the teenage girls, police say. In court, one of the girls said she had fallen in love with “Jake” and that learning that he did not really exist had been heartbreaking. The BBC reported that during the court proceedings against Gemma Watts, it was revealed that two of the victims had attempted suicide.
When issuing the sentence of eight years behind bars, Judge Susan Evans told Watts in court, “There was, it seems to me, planning and in some way predatory behavior. Their age, as you plainly knew, made it more likely that they would be sexually naive, enabling you to get away with your deception.”
5. Gemma Watts’ Defense Attorney Argued That Her ‘Low IQ’ Was a Factor In the Case
Gemma Watts lived in Enfield, a northern borough of London, with her mother. The Independent reported that her defense attorney, Patrick Maggs, argued before the judge that Watts’ low IQ should be considered as important to the case.
“It is relevant that she operated in function as a much younger person than her years,” Maggs explained. “With Gemma Watts’s low IQ, with her immaturity, I would invite the court that that represents that she was almost certainly going to be trying to socialize with those who were younger than herself.”
Other British news outlets described Watts as a former promising athlete. The Evening Standard says Watts used to play soccer.