A woman who groomed girls as young as 13 by posing as a teenage boy on social media has been jailed for eight years after an extensive police investigation found she may have had dozens of young victims.
UK police say Gemma Watts may have assaulted up to 50 school girls while posing as a 16-year-old school boy named ‘Jake Watton.’ Officers said many of her victims may only realise they had been duped by the predator now that she has been jailed and her case widely publicised.
The 21-year-old groomed her victims via Snapchat, Instagram, Whatsapp, and other social media services. She tied her hair up and wore a baseball cap, baggy trousers, and a hoodie to fool the children.
Watts began what the judge described as her “predatory behavior” when she was 19 and targeted a number of 13 to 16 year olds. She convinced the children to swap intimate photos, sometimes speaking with them over the phone before travelling by train to meet in person. She reportedly even met some of the girls’ parents while in character as ‘Jake.’
One of the victims said that her ‘heart exploded,’ in an impact statement which was read aloud to Winchester Crown Court.
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“My world stopped, I actually stopped breathing… I loved him so much,” the victim wrote.
Watts previously pleaded guilty to seven charges of sexual assault and grooming of four girls between the ages of 14 and 15. However, she continued to groom young females whilst on police bail after her initial arrest and partial confession and was later placed under surveillance to prevent her from offending again while investigations were ongoing.
“The level of manipulation and deceit used by Watts to snare her victims in this case was truly shocking,” Police Constable Nicola Benson, from Hampshire Constabulary, said.
“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,” she added.
On Friday, Watts was sentenced to eight years in prison, was placed on the Sex Offenders Register for life and was made subject to a life-long Sexual Harm Prevention Order.
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