Vernon physiotherapist pleads guilty to sexual assaulting female patients | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Vernon physiotherapist pleads guilty to sexual assaulting female patients

Stephen Witvoet
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A 47-year-old Vernon physiotherapist has pled guilty to sexually assaulting female patients while they were undergoing treatment by him.

Stephen Witvoet pled guilty to nine charges of sexual assault today, Oct. 28, at the Vernon courthouse.

Crown lawyer Juan O'Quinn told the court how Witvoet had sexually assaulted several female patients aged between 18 and 53 years old while working from his Vernon practice.

The assaults followed largely the same pattern. Witvoet would massage patients during treatment and then place his hands under his victims' bra and rubs their breasts. In two cases Witvoet placed his hand under the underwear of two separate victims and touched them on the vagina.

"Witvoet asked (the female patient) to remove her blouse, (and) placed a towel under her neck so she couldn't see what he was doing," O'Quinn told the court. "He then put his hand under her bra and touched both breasts."

"At no time did he seek permission to touch her there, nor did she give it to him," O'Quinn said.

One victim had attended Witvoet's clinic twice accompanied by her mother, but on a third visit, her mother did not join her. During this therapy session Witvoet "rubbed his hand all over her chest."

Witvoet was originally arrested and charged with two counts of sexual assault in December 2017 for incidents that took place in July 2015 and November 2016. Witvoet pled not guilty to these charges and was due to stand trial when more victims came forward during the summer of 2019.

A total of 16 victims came forward, which led to 16 charges of sexual assault. Witvoet pled guilty to nine of those charges.

The court heard one victim met Witvoet while she was a student and he was a teacher at the Okanagan Valley College of Massage Therapy in Vernon, where he taught for eight years.

O'Quinn said the victim regarded Witvoet as a "mentor."

When the victim injured her hip, she went to see Witvoet for treatment and he sexually assaulted her.

Some victims visited Witvoet several times but did not return after the sexual assault.

The court heard Witvoet was married with two children and practiced physiotherapy since 2005. Witvoet built a successful business and owned the Thrive Physiotherapy and Sport Injury Clinic, although since the charges came to light the clinic has closed.

Witvoet had also since separated from his wife, has been living with friends and working in construction.

O'Quinn told the court Witvoet was in a position of trust and he abused that trust.

Defence lawyer Glenn Verdurmen told the court Witvoet took full responsibility for the offences.

"It's really the downfall of a man in many ways," Verdurmen said.

In a joint submission to the court, the Crown and defence lawyers argued for Witvoet to receive an 18-month conditional sentence served at home, with a curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Justice Jeremy Guild questioned the lawyers asking how this would affect Witvoet's life as the majority of people were home between these hours.

After a lengthy discussion, the submission was changed to a three-month period of house arrest followed by probation.

However, Justice Guild requested more examples of case law from the lawyers to demonstrate why Witvoet should serve his sentence in the community.

The case was then adjourned for sentencing at a later date.

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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