Woman who dressed as teenage boy to sexually abuse young girls is jailed
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A deceitful woman who dressed as a boy to groom and sexually abuse teenage girls from around the country has been jailed for 8 years.
Gemma Watts, aged 21 years, met the four girls online and began grooming them through social messaging apps such as Snapchat and Instagram. The youngest was aged 13.
Winchester Crown Court heard that Watts, who was 19 at the time, pretended to be a boy named ‘Jake Waton’, telling one victim that she was 17 and another that she was 15.
She maintained this fictional persona – described by one of the victim’s mothers as ‘the ultimate betrayal’ – when meeting the girls in person, and even changed her appearance to look like a boy so her mask of deceit would not slip.
Watts, of Pembroke Avenue, Enfield, pleaded guilty to seven sexual offences at an earlier Winchester Crown Court hearing on 28 November 2019.
The offences were:
• Assault by penetration (Section 2 of the Sexual Offence Act 2003) – victim 1 • Sexual Assault, (Section 3 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003) – victim 1 • Meeting a child following sexual grooming (Section 15 (1) of the Sexual Offences Act 2003) – victim 1 • Sexual Assault, (Section 3 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 – victim 2 • Meeting a child following sexual grooming (Section 15 (1) of the Sexual Offences Act 2003) – victim 2 • Meeting a child following sexual grooming (Section 15 (1) of the Sexual Offences Act 2003) – victim 3 • Sexual Assault, (Section 3 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003) – victim 4
Judge Susan Evans QC sentenced her today (Friday 10 January) to a total of eight years, and imposed a Sexual Harm Prevention Order.
PC Nicola Benson, from Hampshire Constabulary’s Missing and Exploited Team, said: “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.
“This case demonstrates the stark reality of that, and it is astonishing the lengths that Watts went to, to ensure she could abuse these girls.
“I am pleased that Watts has now received a custodial sentence, and I would like to commend the bravery of the girls and their families who found the courage to come forward and make this happen. I want them to know that they are not in any way to blame for this, and hope they can now move on from this ordeal.
“I would also like to thank officers from West Midlands Police, Devon & Cornwall Police, Surrey Police and the Metropolitan Police for their involvement in this complex and lengthy investigation.”
The court heard that one of the victims, from Hampshire, first came across the defendant on a YouTube comment before engaging in contact with her on Snapchat.
The pair met in November 2017, and Watts even met the victim’s parents, staying on the sofa at their house.
Prosecutor Barnaby Shaw said that sexual assaults occurred at the house every night and every morning, and Watts was challenged by the victim over her gender.
He said: “[The victim] challenged Jake over gender, a challenge that had been made before.
“Members of the family remarked that there were particular things said and done that caused them initial concern, but it was apparent by the evidence given by both parents that Gemma Watts was adept at manipulating people and continuing the subterfuge that she did.”
Hampshire Constabulary became aware of ‘Jake’ following reports made by the victim’s doctor that she had been sexually assaulted by a teenage boy.
Further enquiries led police to uncover Watts’ true identity.
The court heard that police were made aware of other girls, from Surrey, Devon and the West Midlands that had also been contacted by ‘Jake’ online, and were sexually assaulted when they met the defendant in person.
One girl said she was ‘shocked and disgusted’ when she learned who ‘Jake’ was.
When questioned by police, Watts made initial denials, but at a later point said she did not know why she targeted any girls and saw it ‘as a game’.
In November 2018, officers from the Met obtained an interim Sexual Risk Order from Stratford Magistrates’ Court which allowed Watts to be closely monitored by officers to prevent her from re-offending until charges were authorised by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in Hampshire. A final Sexual Risk Order was obtained on 2 May 2019 and Watts was charged on 12 September 2019.
Detective Constable Phillipa Kenwright, who was the Metropolitan Police’s Safeguarding Lead, said: “In this particular case, Watts targeted her young victims on social media platforms and duped them into believing they were entering into a relationship with someone whom they could trust. She then went on to form physical relationships in which she spun a web of lies and deceit, giving her the opportunity to commit sexual offences. “Her arrest, and now lengthy prison sentence has prevented her from targeting further victims, but I hope that it also gives reassurance to other victims of sexual exploitation that offenders will be brought to justice and would encourage them to come forward and speak to us. “I am delighted with the sentence that the Judge has passed today and hope it acts as a warning to others intent on exploiting and manipulating children online, that they will be dealt with robustly.” Following sentencing, PC Maria Carrick, Hampshire Constabulary’s Education and Youth Engagement Coordinator, said:
“Young people are vulnerable to exploitation online, and in serious and worrying cases, adults pose as young people to groom and exploit them into engaging in sexual activity online, or trick them into meeting with the intention of physically causing sexual harm.
“This is what makes prevention so important and why we continue to actively work with young people, schools, parents and youth partners in a joined up approach to educate whole communities about the risks children face online, and the impact this can have on them and their families.
“We encourage parents and teachers not to be afraid to talk to children about their activities on social media and explain the importance of privacy, and thinking before uploading content online to help prevent them from becoming victims or perpetrators – this is key to developing young people’s trust and confidence to talk to you, someone else they trust or to report if they’re concerned about inappropriate contact they’ve had online.”