(CNN)- A British woman has been sentenced to eight years’ in prison for pretending to be a 16-year-old boy in order to groom and sexually abuse young girls.
Gemma Watts, 21, pleaded guilty to seven charges of grooming and sexual assault in November 2019 and returned to Winchester Crown Court for sentencing Friday, according to police.
“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,” said Phillipa Kenwright of London’s Metropolitan Police force, who was one of the lead detectives on the case.
“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,” Kenwright added.
Watts used the alias “Jake Watton” to groom her victims on messaging apps such as Facebook, Snapchat, Yubo and Instagram.
Police said her deception was “bizarre and elaborate,” with Watts traveling from her home in Enfield, north London, to different parts of the country to meet her victims.
The investigation into Gemma Watts began in April 2018, when a medical professional told Hampshire police that a 14-year-old girl reported a sexual assault by her boyfriend, known as Jake Watton.
Police found that Jake Watton was actually Gemma Watts, and later discovered two more victims, both under the age of 18, who claimed to have been groomed and sexually assaulted by someone using that name.
Watts was arrested in July 2018 following a search of her home. She admitted to grooming the girls and partially admitted to a number of assaults.
She was then released from jail, but continued to groom young girls, the police said. In October 2018, Watts was found with a missing 15-year-old girl who said she had been sexually assaulted.
It was then that Watts was closely monitored under a Sexual Risk Order to stop her from reoffending, before she was charged on September 12, 2019.
“There was, it seems to me, planning and in some way predatory behavior,” said Judge Susan Evans when sentencing Watts, the PA Media news agency reported.
“Their age, as you plainly knew, made it more likely that they would be sexually naive, enabling you to get away with your deception.”
Watts’ lawyers were unavailable for comment.