Director of Mormon Temple Videos Charged with First Degree Sexual Abuse of a Child

Ryan McKnight

Ryan McKnight

Published

On April 2, 2019, Sterling Van Wagenen, noted film director and producer, was indicted in Utah on a single count of aggravated sexual abuse of a child. An arrest warrant was issued on April 4 and Van Wagenen posted bail of $75,000 on April 8. The charge is a first degree felony which, according to the charging document, carries a 15 year minimum sentence and up to life imprisonment if he is convicted.

Van Wagenen has had a long and successful career in film, starting with the co-founding of the Sundance Film Festival with Robert Redford in 1978. In more recent years, Van Wagenen worked on many high profile projects for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly known as the Mormon Church.

In February, the Truth and Transparency Foundation (TTF) published an audio recording in which Van Wagenen admits to sexually molesting a 13 year old boy in 1993. In the audio, Van Wagenen states that he has never engaged in sexual activity with any other minor. The news of this admision led to Van Wagenen resigning from his current position as a film professor at the University of Utah.

Earlier this month, the TTF reported that Van Wagenen was under investigation for an instance of sexual abuse. At the time, few details were known. With this new charge, we now know that he was being investigated for sexually abusing a child under 14.

According to the probable cause statement contained in the charging document, Van Wagenen “rubbed” the genital area of a female between the ages of 7 and 9 on two occasions between 2013 and 2015.

Subsequent to the two instances of abuse, Van Wagenen was alone with the child and asked her if the touching made her feel uncomfortable. According to the victim, during this conversation he told her that this was same way he touched his wife. The victim expressed that the touching made her uncomfortable and he told her that he would stop.

According to the court docket, which has been viewed by the TTF, Van Wagenen made his initial appearance after the warrant was issued on April 8, the day he posted the $75,000 bail. The next scheduled court date is May 2, 2019.

David (not his real name), the young man Van Wagenen molested in 1993 informed the TTF that he was surprised by the charge. When he met with Van Wagenen last year and discussed his own molestation with him, David left that conversation convinced that Van Wagenen was being honest and sincere in his declaration that he had never had sexual contact with any other minor.

David goes on to say, “More than anything, my heart breaks for the victim in this case and I sincerely hope there are no other victims out there.”

Requests for comment have been sent to Van Wagenen, his attorney, Steven Shapiro, and the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s office. Shapiro declined to comment.

The TTF will continue to monitor this story.


Ethan Gregory Dodge contributed to the reporting of this story.

If you are a survivor a abuse, below are a list of resources that can be utilized in the United  States. If you are not a resident of the US, we encourage you to search for resources near you.

National Sexual Assault Hotline

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP)


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