A Vernon physiotherapist who pleaded guilt to nine sexual assault charges involving female patients feels like a pariah, a judge said in sentencing the man to 18 months to be served in the community.
Stephen Without pleaded guilty to assaults involving directly massaging patients’ breasts or touching or rubbing their vaginal areas.
The court said the activity had no therapeutic or valid reason during treatment in 2015 and 2016 at Witvoet’s Thrive Physiotherapy business.
He was charged with 16 offenses in total.
“The victims went to see Mr. Witvoet for pain relief. They trusted him. He abused that trust,” Vernon Provincial Court Judge Jeremy Guild said.
The first complaint came in July 2015 when a woman told police Witvoet had massaged both of her breasts under her sports bra with his hand. She did not want to proceed with charges unless someone else came forward.
Three months later, another woman complained of similar behaviour. Police contacted the first woman and Witvoet was charged.
Two more complaints led to charges in June 2019.
After that, RCMP appealed to the public for assistance and a further 12 charges resulted.
The victims ranged in age from 18 to 57.
They had sought Witvoet’s services for issues such as flat feet, shoulder injuries, lockjaw and other injuries.
The October 2019 guilty plea came after a joint submission from Crown and defence.
“The guilty pleas were also important for him as an acceptance of his responsibility, and an acknowledgment that he did wrong and that the victims were right,” Guild said in the July 8 sentencing ruling. The guilty pleas help make sure justice is done from the victims’ perspectives.”
Witvoet is now separated from his wife, with whom he has two children.
“He now takes full responsibility for his offending, is remorseful and recognizes that he abused his position of trust. The publicity has left him feeling like a pariah,” Guild said. “He may have to find a new career. He has been working in construction to make ends meet and support his family.”
Guild said he initially had concerns about the sentence “because there seemed to be very little punitive aspect to it.”
But, he said, the guilty plea spared the victims having to testify. Despite their names being barred from publication, their need to be in court would leak out and people would know the details of what had happened to them, Guild said.
“Being spared the necessity of testifying helped protect their privacy and save them from embarrassment. That was one of the main goals in the Crown arriving at the joint submission,” Guild said.
The 18-month sentence is broken into six months’ house arrest and a year with a 10 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew.
He also received two years’ probation also include a ban on treating female patients while on probation.
“Given the notoriety of his offending, his neighbours and the community will know of his restrictions,” Guild said.
The College of Physiotherapists of British Columbia in June 2019 prohibited Witvoet from treating female patients pending the completion of its regulatory investigation. With sentencing complete, the college will conclude its regulatory process with results to be published on its website.