was a co-founder of Sundance Film Festival and director of some Mormon temple endowment videos; publicly accused of sexual abuse of two children in two separate instances; sentenced to prison in 2019 for child sexual abuse

Case Summary

Brief summary of Sterling Van Wagenen’s sexual abuse cases:

Sex abuse case 1:

In 1993, Van Wagenen confessed to his local Mormon bishop or stake president that he had sexually molested his 13-year-old neighbor Sean Escobar while Escobar was sleeping over at Van Wagenen’s home. He also went to the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office and made a confession there.

Escobar’s family soon dropped the case, however. In 2019, Escobar’s parents said that they had done so in order to protect Sean from the ridicule and stress a trial might bring on him.

Van Wagenen was disfellowshipped for two years, a punishment of partial exclusion from LDS church participation.

That same year, Mr. Van Wagenen began working at Brigham Young University as an adjunct professor of film.

in September 2018, Sean Escobar secretly recorded a conversation in which he confronted Van Wagenen for sexually abusing him in 1993, when Escobar was 13. He made the recording public in February 2019, via the Truth & Transparency Foundation.

Sex abuse case 2:

In April 2019, Van Wagenen was charged with two counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child. Prosecutors in Utah said he molested a girl younger than 10 on two occasions between 2013 and 2015 – during the same time period that he was producing videos for use in the LDS church’s sacred temple ceremonies.

On April 30, 2019, Van Wagenen pleaded guilty to one charge of aggravated sexual abuse of a child.

On July 2, 2019, he was jailed for six years to life.

Brief bio of the accused:

Sterling Gray Van Wagenen is a film director and producer.

Van Wagenen was born in 1947 and grew up in rural Utah. He earned his bachelor’s degree in philosophy and theater from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

Van Wagenen’s cousin married actor Robert Redford in 1958.

In the late 1970s, Redford and Van Wagenen co-founded the Sundance Film Festival.

From 1993 to 1999, Van Wagenen was an adjunct professor of film at BYU, manager of BYU’s TV Group.

From 1999 to 2004, he served as director of the School of Film and Digital Media at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. He has been a professor (Lecturer) in Film and Media Arts at the University of Utah.

From 2007 to 2010, he was director of content for BYU Broadcasting.

Van Wagenen has served on the media arts panels at the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts.

He was an executive producer for the film and video division of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He directed parts 2 and 3 of The Work and the Glory film trilogy.

In the 2010s, he directed multiple films used during the LDS temple endowment ceremony presentation, also referred to as “Mormon temple videos.”

Videos: Sterling Van Wagenen Mormon sex crime case

    • Video title: 2018-09-Sterling Van Wagenen-Audio - Mormon Leaks - YouTube - 2019-02-04
    • Video description: "In September of 2018 Sterling Van Wagenen was recorded confessing to having molested a 13 year old boy in 1993. All names mentioned in the conversation have been redacted except for Van Wagenen's. To further protect the identity of the victim, his voice has been distorted. ''Note: Distorting the victim's voice was difficult due to various instances of cross-talk. As a result, the decision was made to edit the audio and remove the instances where there was a high amount of cross-talk and context would not be lost. Refer to the published transcript for an unedited version of what was said in the conversation.'' This Audio was first published by MormonLeaks on February 4, 2019."
    • Video title: The LDS Church’s Coverup of Sterling Van Wagenen’s Sexual Abuse Pt. 1 - Mormon Stories #1110 - Mormon Stories Podcast - YouTube - 2019-05-09
    • Video description: "In February of this year, the Truth & Transparency Foundation released an audio recording made by Sean Escobar as he confronted his abuser as a child, Sterling Van Wagenen—co-founder of the Sundance Film Festival and director of many LDS Church-produced films, including the films shown in LDS temples. The story of the abuse and its impact has now made national news, spurred by the continuing coverage of The Truth and Transparency Foundation as it was revealed that even though the abuse was reported to LDS Church authorities, Sterling was not excommunicated, but went on to work as a professor at Brigham Young University and produce many LDS Church films. Since the release of the audio recording by TTF, Sterling has since pled guilty to separate charges of child sex abuse in Utah and is currently awaiting sentencing. In this interview, we share the complete audio recording of Sean's confrontation with Sterling, and then we process how the abuse affected Sean's life, including the fallout related to sharing the audio recording with The Truth and Transparency Foundation including the discovery of more victims."
    • Video title: Mormon Stories #1111: The LDS Church’s Coverup of Sterling Van Wagenen’s Sexual Abuse Pt. 2 - Mormon Stories Podcast - YouTube - 2019-05-09
    • Video description: "In February of this year, the Truth & Transparency Foundation released an audio recording made by Sean Escobar as he confronted his abuser as a child, Sterling Van Wagenen—co-founder of the Sundance Film Festival and director of many LDS Church-produced films, including the films shown in LDS temples. The story of the abuse and its impact has now made national news, spurred by the continuing coverage of The Truth and Transparency Foundation as it was revealed that even though the abuse was reported to LDS Church authorities, Sterling was not excommunicated, but went on to work as a professor at Brigham Young University and produce many LDS Church films. Since the release of the audio recording by TTF, Sterling has since pled guilty to separate charges of child sex abuse in Utah and is currently awaiting sentencing. In this interview, we share the complete audio recording of Sean's confrontation with Sterling, and then we process how the abuse affected Sean's life, including the fallout related to sharing the audio recording with The Truth and Transparency Foundation including the discovery of more victims."
    • Video title: Sundance Film Festival co-founder pleads guilty to sex abuse - ABC4 Utah - 2019-04-30
    • Video description: "Sundance Film Festival co-founder pleads guilty to sex abuse"

Mormon Sexual Abuse Map

International map of locations where active members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints perpetrated or allegedly perpetrated sexual abuse or other sex crimes, or where LDS leaders failed or allegedly failed to help abuse survivors.