"The level of manipulation and deceit used by Watts to snare her victims in this case was truly shocking," said Police Constable Nicola Benson
A British woman has been sentenced to eight years behind bars after pretending to be a 16-year-old boy in order to groom and sexually assault young girls.
Gemma Watts, 21, of Enfield, England, was sentenced in Winchester Crown Court on Friday after pleading guilty in November to seven charges of sexual assault and sexual grooming with four different girls, the Metropolitan Police said in a statement on Friday.
Authorities suspect she groomed as many as 50 young women, The Guardian reported on Friday.
Police first became aware of Watts’ “shocking” dealings with young women in April 2018, when a 14-year-old girl reported that she had been sexually assaulted by her boyfriend Jake Waton — Watts’ alias.
In the investigation that followed, police found two other victims, both under the age of 18, and identified “Jake Waton” to be Watts. Watts used apps including Facebook, Snapchat, Yubo and Instagram to lure girls and “obtain their trust” before meeting them in person “and committing a number of serious sexual offences.”
To transform herself to look like a boy, Watts reportedly wore baggy clothing and tied her hair into a bun underneath a hat. The Guardian reported that she “stuffed rolled-up socks into her shorts” to trick at least one girl into thinking Watts had a penis.
Watts was arrested in July 2018 after police entered her home on a search warrant, but while out on bail, “continued to groom young females” and was arrested again in October 2018 after being found by authorities with a missing 15-year-old girl, who later told police that Watts had sexually assaulted her.
Watts was then under tight surveillance under a Sexual Risk Order, and was charged in September 2019.
She has been placed on the Sex Offenders Register for life and was made subject to a life-long Sexual Harm Prevention Order, police said.
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“The level of manipulation and deceit used by Watts to snare her victims in this case was truly shocking,” said Police Constable Nicola Benson from the Hampshire Constabulary’s Missing and Exploited Team. “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,” Benson added.
Watts’ lawyer could not be immediately identified by PEOPLE.