Vernon physiotherapist continued to sexually assault patients after police warning | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Vernon physiotherapist continued to sexually assault patients after police warning

Stephen Witvoet
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November 04, 2019 - 7:00 AM

Vernon physiotherapist Stephen Witvoet continued to sexually assault patients even after police warned him — two years before he faced any charges at all — that a complaint of sexual assault was made against him.

According to court records, prior to any charges being laid, Witvoet was told by police in September 2015 that a female patient complained he sexually assaulted her but did not want to press charges at that time.

It also appears Witvoet may have sexually assaulted victims for several months even after police charged him with sexual assault.

Many of the charges as they are constructed are very broad, giving a date of the offence as sometime between June 1, 2009 and Apr. 30, 2018, for example.

Some of the charges are a little more specific on dates. Crown prosecutor Juan O'Quinn told a Vernon judge Oct. 28, one of the victims was sexually assaulted by Witvoet sometime between June 2017 and March 2018. Witvoet was originally charged with two counts of sexual assault in December 2017, meaning this assault may have happened after he was charged.

Not all of the dates were read out in court, however at least four of the sexual assaults Witvoet pled guilty to Oct. 28, occurred after police advised him of the initial complaint.

The assaults followed largely the same pattern where Witvoet would massage patients' breasts and nipples, placing his hands under their bras. Witvoet also placed his hand inside the underwear of two separate victims and touched their vulva.

The 47-year-old physiotherapist was ultimately charged with sexually assaulting 16 female patients. Witvoet pled guilty to nine of the 16 charges Oct. 28. It's expected the remainder of the charges will be stayed.

In a joint submission to the judge, the Crown and defence have requested no jail time for Witvoet, instead asking for an 18-month sentence served in the community, possibly under a house arrest curfew. Court also heard he has since lost his practice as well as his marriage.

During the Oct. 28 sentencing, defence lawyer Glenn Verdurmen told Judge Jeremy Guild that in January 2017 Witvoet was told a complaint had been made against him and he was restricted from working on female patients unless in the presence of a chaperone.

It's unclear who imposed this restriction or whether any steps were taken to enforce it.

The College of Physical Therapists of British Columbia refused to answer questions about Witvoet or their role in protecting the public, citing privacy concerns when asked whether the restriction was imposed by the organization.

On May 28, 2019, the College confirmed they had not taken disciplinary action against Witvoet and would not disclose whether he was under investigation. Weeks later, on June 17, however, the college placed restrictions on Witvoet, which by July 2 had barred him from treating female patients, along with a list of other constraints.

The case against the physiotherapist originally came about after a patient went to the RCMP in July 2015 complaining that Witvoet put his hands under her bra and massaged her nipples during treatment.

She said if more victims ever came forward with complaints against him, to contact her and she may reconsider. The victim also requested the police speak to Witvoet about the incident.

During Witvoet's earlier trial in May 2019, Judge Guild said an RCMP officer told the physiotherapist about this complaint in September 2015.

In November 2016 a second victim contacted the RCMP saying Witvoet sexually assaulted her that day during treatment. The earlier complainant was then contacted and gave another statement to police in 2017. Witvoet was ultimately charged following these two complaints in December 2017.

Following media reporting of the two charges in May 2019, more victims came forward and by August the physiotherapist was facing 16 charges.

Witvoet's sentencing is scheduled to continue Dec. 9, after the judge adjourned the Oct. 28 proceeding asking the lawyers for more case law to back up their submission that no jail time should be served.

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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