A 21-year-old English woman who posed as a 16-year-old boy in order to groom and sexually abuse as many as 50 vulnerable teenage girls was recently sentenced to eight years in prison, The Guardian reports.
Gemma Watts used social media apps such as Instagram and WhatsApp to make contact with teenage girls, many of whom were reportedly vulnerable due to bullying or low self-esteem. As part of her campaign, Watts created a fake Instagram account in the name of “Jake Waton,” whom she presented as a 16-year-old boy. In the posts for the account, she wore loose-fitting clothes, tied her hair up into a bun, wore a hood over her head, used teenage slang, and posted videos of skateboarding.
Watts would then find the profiles of 14-year-old to 16-year-old girls and “like” them in order to begin grooming the girls, often calling them “Babe” and other pet names.
Using the app, Watts was able to convince at least some of her victims to send her sexually-explicit photos.
Watts reportedly went so far as to meet the families of some of the girls while maintaining her ruse as being Jake Waton.
On several occasions, Watts was nearly discovered, according to The Guardian. Though she stuffed a tube sock into her pants in order to present the image of having a penis, at least one photo of the real Watts, dressed as a woman, was sent to a teenager. Watts explained to the girl that it was “Jake” trying on women’s clothes. When a victim noticed that Watts had breasts, Watts said that she had struggled with her weight and still had “man boobs.”
When she was arrested, Watts reportedly told authorities that she viewed the entire thing as a “game,” and that she was trying to “cheer up” depressed girls by giving them attention.
However, to the victims, it was no game. In one case, Watts reportedly held a knife to a girl’s throat and physically assaulted her. Other victims, already in vulnerable psychological states, committed unspecified acts of self-harm after their experiences with Watts, according to The Guardian.
“She’s in my head … I think what she has done to me is gross, horrible,” one victim said.
Watts’ defense team argued that Watts was immature for her age, has diminished intelligence, and has her own unspecified “issues” with sexuality. In arguing for leniency, her team also noted that she had no prior criminal convictions.
However, Judge Susan Evans noted that Watts’ behavior involved careful planning and was clearly “predatory.”
“It seems that nothing deterred you,” she told Watts.