A “predatory” woman who duped girls as young as 13 into thinking she was a teenage boy so she could sexually assault them has been jailed for eight years.
Gemma Watts, 21, would conceal her long hair beneath a baseball cap and wear baggy clothes in elaborate disguises that even fooled her victims’ parents.
It was not until police revealed the shocking truth about her identity that the girls realised the persona of teenage “Jake Waton” was a complete lie.
In an emotional statement read out in court, one of the girls said her “heart exploded” when she learned the truth of Watts’ deception.
Appearing at Winchester Crown Court on Friday, she was described as a sexual offender who was “adept at both manipulating people and the continuing subterfuge” by prosecutor Barnaby Shaw.
Watts, of Pembroke Avenue, Enfield, pleaded guilty at the same court in November to seven sexual assault and grooming charges.
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.
However police believe Watts – who once dreamed of playing professional football – possibly assaulted between 20 and 50 girls.
Prosecutor Mr Shaw added: “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.”
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.
Sentencing her, judge Susan Evans QC jailed her for eight years, saying she showed “predatory behaviour”.
The judge said: “There was, it seems to me, planning and in some way predatory behaviour.
“Their age, as you plainly knew, made it more likely that they would be sexually naive, enabling you to get away with your deception.
“You groomed each of them with telephone and internet contact to deceive each of them as to your identity.”
Judge Evans said Watts caused “severe psychological harm” but accepted that her low IQ, guilty plea, lack of previous convictions and relatively low age at the time served as mitigation.
One of the girls, 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 put a lot of trust in Jake and I feel it was all just a lie.”
Patrick Maggs, defending Watts, said she understood her offending was “serious”.
“Gemma Watts was the adult and she had a responsibility, a responsibility held by any adult, towards those children.
“With Gemma Watts’ low IQ, with her immaturity, I would invite the court that that represents that she was almost certainly going to be trying to socialise with those who were younger than herself.
“Whatever else it was to present as a boy was indicative of Gemma Watts’ entire failing to cope with her own sexuality.”
Detective Chief Inspector Nicholas Plummer, from Hampshire Police, said: “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.”