18 months house arrest for B.C. physiotherapist who sexually assaulted multiple patients
VANCOUVER -- A B.C. physiotherapist who pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting multiple patients will serve 18 months of house arrest, followed by two years of probation.
Stephen Witvoet pleaded guilty to nine counts of sexual assault, after a total of 14 female patients came forward to report that he had touched or rubbed their breasts or genitals during physiotherapy sessions when there was no valid therapeutic reason for the touching to occur.
Witvoet will serve his sentence as house arrest for the first six months, and then have a curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. for the next 12 months of his sentence, according to the reasons for sentencing.
Witvoet, a physiotherapist who practiced in Vernon, B.C., was originally charged with two counts of sexual assault after two women accused him of touching their breasts during physiotherapy treatments in 2015 and 2016, according to court documents.
A trial had started in May 2019, but had not concluded when Witvoet was charged with two more counts of sexual assault on June 7, 2019.
When police published a request for any other victims to come forward on July 12, 2019, several more women made police reports about similar assaults.
The women reported that they had made appointments for physiotherapy treatment, but during the sessions Witvoet had put his hands under their clothing and touched the breasts or genitals without their consent.
In his reasons for judgment, Judge Jeremy Guild explained that by pleading guilty, Witvoet avoided a series of lengthy trials. He said the court’s main consideration of the recommended sentence included the strength and weakness in evidence, but also the victims’ wellbeing.
Overall, Guild wrote, the victims preferred not to have to go through the ordeal of a trial.
The women who filed victim impact statements said the assaults made them feel “shame, guilt, depression, panic attacks, and loss of ability to concentrate and function at work,” according to court documents.
They said they had “decreased trust in others, fear for other family members, fear of treatment from professionals, difficulties in relationships with family and friends, attending counselling and psychiatrists, loss of employment, headaches and muscle pain from stress and anxiety, and feeling like they were mere sexual objects, rather than patients.”
Guild said that he also took into consideration that Witvoet is a first-time offender. Even though Witvoet committed multiple sexual assaults over several years, Guild said “they are all treated the same - as a first offence - because this is the first time he will be convicted and sentenced.”
Pleading guilty to the offences has taken a toll on his personal life, Guild wrote: Witvoet’s wife has left him, he has been impacted financially, and if he ever tries to practice his profession again, he will be subject to review by the College of Physiotherapists of BC, according to court documents.
Guild wrote that while Witvoet’s character is flawed, the 18-month sentence will allow him to focus on rehabilitation. The judge wrote that if Witvoet was sentenced for all nine offences, with the sentences to be served consecutively, it would end up being a 13.5 year sentence, which Guild said would be too harsh.