by Jenean Docter and Danielle Eden C. Silva
Citizen Witness Testimony Heard
By Jenean Docter
Further witness testimony in the case against Rodwin Yamsone Vibat, a Davis resident accused of sexually assaulting numerous women at his massage business, was heard in Department 14 on the afternoon of Tuesday, February 27. Judge David Rosenberg presided over the testimony, with Deputy District Attorney Ryan Couzens representing the People, and Deputy Public Defender Emily Fisher representing the defendant.
Mr. Couzens called “DC” as the first of the People’s afternoon witnesses. DC is a current Sacramento resident who formerly owned and operated a dance studio in Davis. She subleased one of her studio’s three rooms to Mr. Vibat, which he used to conduct his massage business, “Oh My Aching Back.” Mr. Vibat even had a clearly-visible sign for his business displayed across the front door of the downtown studio.
Mr. Vibat paid DC around $500 per month to rent this room. Most of his rent, $450, was to be paid in cash, and the remaining $50 was to be compensated through massages. Following multiple long-term muscle injuries, DC had been receiving weekly massages for nearly fifteen years. She received massages from Vibat up to once per week between June 2015 and September 2016.
They did not have any specific agreement as to the types of massages that D.C was to receive from Mr. Vibat, but she always received full body deep-tissue massages. DC noted that, at the time, she did not notice “anything in particular that was strange” about the massages she received from Vibat.
However, DC recalled that, on numerous occasions, Mr. Vibat’s hands brushed her genitals over her underwear while he was massaging her thighs. Because DC suffered from a long-term injury to the
muscle in her upper inner thigh, she assumed the “split-second” contact was accidental, since they were close to her injury. She described the touching as “occasional,” occurring “maybe every couple months.”
Yet DC did recall telling the police that she began wearing fuller-coverage underwear during the massages as a result of the touching. DC was contacted over telephone by the police in June 2016, following Mr. Vibat’s arrest. DC was no longer residing or working in Davis at this time; she had recently closed her business, citing financial reasons.
Additionally, DC noted that she had never received inner thigh massages from any other massage therapist, or faced this issue during any other massage—despite receiving massages in different countries from over 50 massage therapists.
DC recalled other instances of inappropriate touching during her massages, such as Mr. Vibat massaging around her breasts “maybe once or twice.” She reflected that she felt “surprised” and “uncomfortable” when he placed his hands underneath her breasts and along the sides of her torso. noted that the only massage she had ever received near her breasts occurred in Indonesia.
Mr. Vibat did not touch her breast tissue during every massage—the action occurred “maybe two times” before DC confronted Mr. Vibat. She told him that she “didn’t want that anymore,” and he stopped.
“Ironically,” Mr. Vibat once told her “if anything makes you uncomfortable, you know you should let me know, right?”
“You give your trust to these people in the hope that they are professional,” DC stated.
She reflected that she didn’t say anything about the pattern of inappropriate touching Vibat subjected her to during her massages because she viewed him “like a doctor” and she trusted to treat her muscle injuries.
The People called a second witness, RH. She began receiving massages from Mr. Vibat before he had moved his business into DC’s dance studio. At the time, he was working at Davis Swim & Fitness.
During her full body massages, RH recalled that Mr. Vibat seemed to “accidentally” touch her breasts. After about three massages, in late 2013 to early 2014, “something unusual happened”: Vibat placed his hand between her breasts. RH did not return to Vibat’s massage studio for one year.
RH explained that she did not say anything at the time because she “wasn’t sure,” even though she knew she had never had a similar experience with any other massage therapist. She noted that she was afraid that her gut instinct might be “blowing things out of proportion.
“Women are used to being told not to trust their instincts and are used to men touching us whether we want it or not,” she remarked.
About one year after the initial incident, RH’s regular massage therapist was out of town, so she decided to give Mr. Vibat another chance. She set an appointment for a Mother’s Day special. Nothing odd occurred at this appointment, so RH set another with Vibat in August. That appointment, according to RH, was when he sexually assaulted her.
Mr. Vibat was late to the appointment, so he offered to “go longer.” During the first portion of the appointment, RH was lying face down on the table while Mr. Vibat massaged her legs and buttocks. She noted that this portion of the appointment did not feel uncomfortable.
RH noted that Mr. Vibat’s hand had brushed against her genitals while he was massaging her thighs. “I should have realized that it might not have been accidental, that he was testing to see how far he could go,” she stated in retrospect.
RH alleges that Vibat then flipped her over, rubbed her genitals over her underwear, pulled the underwear aside, and sexually assaulted her by inserting his finger into her vagina. She stated that she was not giving him any signals that might have suggested that such behavior was acceptable. The situation lasted between five and ten seconds.
“I was freaked out, I didn’t know what to think or what to do, I didn’t know if I should run…I was alone in that building with him,” RH reflected. “My mind was racing; I was just going to wait for it to be over,” she continued.
“That’s enough,” RH told Mr. Vibat. He then continued the massage.
RH recalled that Vibat used a vibrating massage tool on her thighs, which seemed unusual as well.
RH claimed that after the massage ended, Mr. Vibat told her that he “wasn’t going to charge her.” She told him “that shouldn’t have happened,” and Vibat allegedly replied, “I forgot I was at work.”
Immediately after the appointment, Mr. Vibat began to text message RH. He apologized to her, and offered to “work on her for free.”
RH noted that she confided in friends about the situation, and solicited their advice. She also called the California Massage Therapy Council to find out if she could report Mr. Vibat. However, since massage therapists are not mandated to join an association or be regulated, RH was unable to take action against him through any professional board. The Council recommended that she contact the police.
Fearing a drawn-out and painful legal battle supported by little to no evidence, RH did not want to call the police.
“This has gone on eighteen months and I get asked uncomfortable questions in court. I didn’t want to go through this,” she confessed.
During the cross-examination, Ms. Fisher affirmed that RH believed that Vibat “would put his hands on her in a professional manner each time,” and that she did not believe Mr. Vibat had any sexual intent toward her.
Three more civilian witnesses remain to be heard. They were set to appear in court on the morning of Wednesday, February 28, in Department 14.
Additional Witnesses Testify in Massage Therapist Trial
By Danielle Eden C. Silva
Witnesses from both the defense and prosecution appeared at the stand today, as the trial resumed for Rodwin Vibat, a Davis masseur accused of sexual assault with two felony charges and four misdemeanor charges. Deputy Public Defender Emily Fisher represented Mr. Vibat and Deputy District Attorney Ryan Couzens represented the People.
The afternoon session started with the appearance of the witness AP for the People. AP, a UC Davis undergraduate student, had been a member at the Get Fit Davis gym and had seen advertising for a massage. Wanting to treat her back and shoulders, she scheduled an appointment for a full body massage at the end of May 2015. After one massage with Mr. Vibat, she has not had a massage since.
The massage started normally but the second half raised flags, the witness shared. He massaged her inner thighs up to the band of her underwear and from the center to the outside of her breasts. During this massage, the witness had been wearing running shorts and a sports bra. More than once the massage went to the border of her underwear, close to but not touching her genital area. Additionally, he had reached under her sports bra and touched her bare skin, never the nipples but about one-third of the breast tissue at a time.
In response, AP froze. “[I expected] I would get pain relief… So I was not in a frame of mind to think something would go wrong,” the witness stated. “I was not prepared to stop someone from touching me inappropriately.”
During the session, the defendant had complimented her legs, calling them very strong. In ending the session, she noted he unusually swirled his hands around her chest. He shared it was really good working with her, squeezing her foot and speaking to her in a low voice beside her head.
Following this, she wrote a statement to the gym about what had happened. The defense took over cross-examination, asking if the phrase had been,”Thank you so much for letting me work on you,” to which she agreed.
A jury question then revealed that at the time she had been 21 years old. The defense additionally questioned if she had had several massages before Vibat, and AP answered affirmatively. The prosecution, however, brought up that she had not had any massages since then, because of Mr. Vibat.
AP was thanked and excused.
Next, the investigating officer returned to the stand. The prosecution continued the interview video of Mr. Vibat with the investigating officer and another female officer. During the video, Vibat noted that the massage he was arrested for was the first time he had been reported for such a thing. The officer continued to press him to see who else would call in and pointed out to the defendant that he had been crossing a line he was not aware of. The defendant had spoken very quietly and appeared not to understand what the officer was referring to. The investigating officer left the interview room for a moment, during which the defendant turned to the female officer to learn about the process of his arrest.
The investigating officer returned and asked if the masseur continued to massage them until they said stop, to which he agreed. He also revealed he had dated three of his clients, actually breaking off one relationship because of this duality. From here, the video malfunctioned and concentration was shifted back to the prosecution questioning the investigating officer. The officer shared he had done further investigation into four victims and attempted to call workplaces for information but couldn’t get any information.
The defense concentrated on the exactness of which the officer should be writing his reports, stating that officers must provide accurate and correct information from the person they interview. In the case of the witness PH, whom he has spoken to on the phone, she had mentioned the defendant had not touched her nipples and let him know that was enough. From there, the massage continued. This statement to the police contrasted with the testimony PH gave on February 27. Additionally, they asked if all the officer had received from the businesses was the complaint from AP, which was agreed upon.
The prosecution brought up that the reports document what a person said, but the officer may have paraphrased in the report. He also noted that some businesses didn’t talk with him at all.
The defense then called up two witnesses who had been clients of Mr. Vibat several years before he had been arrested. They both noted him as an excellent masseur; the latter of the two, witness LB, even recommended the masseur to her patients because of his skill. Neither experienced discomfort during the massages and when they voiced not to have him touch certain places, he complied. Both remembered him massaging only the upper chest area and never too close to the genital area. They both had found him polite and professional, always ending the session with a thank you and working on areas they asked for emphasis on.
LB, one of two witnesses who is also a physician, noted that the term “lymphatic detox” was not one she was familiar with. Additionally, she would not have recommended her patients to Vibat had she known he stuck a finger into the vagina of one of his clients. Massaging the vaginal area for pain should be done by request and never done by a massage therapist, LB stated. This witness also shared that she was told that a disagreement with management was why Mr. Vibat had changed locations, and was not told about the complaint that led him to leave his job.
After those testimonies, the video was continued. The defendant had mentioned he would get tips for “extra attention” which he meant as extending the massage time. He wasn’t sure how many people would call in and that he did work on the inner thighs and stomach areas. The investigating officer, during the video, noted that they had brought the defendant in for both sides of the story, but that Vibat had been participating in a systematic pattern of changing his location of work after disagreements.
The video was followed by three other defense witnesses. All these witnesses had noted that Mr. Vibat had never made them feel uncomfortable and always worked on the areas that had been related to what they had asked for. There had never been inappropriate touching, and witness “DB” even stated that Vibat was very skilled in locating areas where knots or strains were. As the previous two witnesses, DB noted Vibat ended the session by thanking them for allowing him to work on them.
The jury was dismissed for the day and a witness recalled for tomorrow. On February 29, 2018, in Department 14, the People will have three witnesses remaining, and the defense one. The court was dismissed with a reminder to the attorneys to prepare for closing statements.