'I feel dismissed': Victim of Vernon physiotherapist 'disgusted' he might avoid jail - InfoNews

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'I feel dismissed': Victim of Vernon physiotherapist 'disgusted' he might avoid jail

Vernon physiotherapist Stephen Witvoet.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/RCMP
December 17, 2019 - 5:00 PM

A Vernon woman says she was left breathless when she learned that the physiotherapist who sexually assaulted her will likely not do time behind bars.

"I couldn't even breath," she said when she heard the news that lawyers in the case had put forward a joint submission to the judge, suggesting that physiotherapist Stephen Witvoet shouldn't do any jail time.

"He was in a place of power and so needs to be made an example of," she said. "He needs some time in custody."

The woman, who cannot be named by court order, is one of 16 different complainants in the case against Witvoet. The physiotherapist, who owned Thrive Physiotherapy and Sport Injury Clinic was charged with two counts of sexual assault in December 2017. Media reporting of the charge led to more victims coming forward, and by August 2019, Witvoet was facing 16 different charges for sexual assault. The incidents all took place during treatment and date as far back as June 2009.

Witvoet originally pleaded not guilty to two charges, but after more victims came forward he changed his plea, and in October pleaded guilty to nine of the 16 charges. Most of the complaints are similar, that he fondled breasts and in some cases, labia. 

Defence lawyer Glenn Verdurmen, and Crown lawyer Juan O'Quinn, asked the judge for an 18-month conditional sentence served at home with a curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. The submission was later changed to include three months of house arrest. On two occasions, Judge Jeremy Guild has requested more examples of case law from the lawyers to support their submission before he sentences the physiotherapist.

The complainant said the fact that the B.C. Prosecution Service isn't asking for a custodial service makes her feel the case is not being taken seriously enough.

"The fact that (no jail time) is even an option is baffling to me," she said. "I want an explanation for that, and I'm sure others do."

The woman said the assault had a tremendous effect on her life and that she never spoke to anyone about it and tried to suppress what had happened.

The complainant said she saw Witvoet for several physiotherapy sessions several years ago. She says Witvoet cupped her breasts during two of the sessions and she justified it to herself, believing he was a professional doing his job. At a later session, the physiotherapist asked her to pull her pants down to her knees, he started rubbing her thigh and then touched her labia. During this final session she got up and left and never went back.

It was only after seeing an iNFOnews.ca story that she came forward to police.

"I started crying," she said. "I felt everything. Every single feeling, it was there."

While she says knowing that Witvoet had done the same to other women validated what she knew happened to her, different emotions followed, as she felt guilt and shame for not coming forward earlier.

She's now taking it day-by-day and focussing on healing, but news that no jail time is being sought has exacerbated the rollercoaster of emotions already brought on by the assault.

To add to the emotional turmoil, her case is one of the charges that Witvoet didn't plead guilty to and appears likely to be stayed by the Crown.

"I just feel so dismissed right now," she said. "I'm even more enraged, before I was really sad, now I'm disgusted."

No one from the police or the Crown took the time to contact her and say the charge had been stayed and she said she feels let down by the lack of communication and wonders if the case was taken seriously.

"The sooner this is dealt with more seriously the sooner everyone can move on," she said.

Stephen Witvoet is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 27, 2020.

For more stories on Stephen Witvoet go here.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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