‘I hope…publicity helps the victim heal,’ says Sundance co-founder, LDS filmmaker on abuse claim

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FILE – In this Sept. 14, 2016, file photo, the Salt Lake Temple, is shown, in Salt Lake City. A nationwide survey of midterm voters found that about two-thirds of Mormon voters nationwide favored Republicans in the midterm elections, but approval for President Donald Trump lags behind. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – The man who co-founded the Sundance Film Festival and who directed films seen in LDS temples admitted to child molestation in an interview with his alleged victim, according to the website Truth for Transparency. Tuesday, ABC4 News was able to authenticate the recording by reaching out to the accused, Sterling Van Wagenen, who said the voice in the recording circulated by TTF is his own. 

“I only hope all this publicity helps the victim heal,” Van Wagenen said in an email to ABC4 News. 

TTF founder Ryan McKnight also runs the website MormonLeaks. 

The alleged victim, who asked that he be called “David” reached out to Sterling Van Wagenen in September of 2018 to get closure on an incident he claims occurred in the early 90s. He recorded their conversation, in which Van Wagenen admits to the abuse and apologizes for it. 

According to TTF, Van Wagenen directed two of the videos used in the endowment ceremonies for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He also co-founded the Sundance Film Festival. 

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not comment on disciplinary matters, but Van Wagenen claims he did undergo Church discipline for the alleged molestation of David. According to police reports, the incident was reported to Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office in July 1993. 

Van Wagenen, who could not be reached for comment by ABC4 News Monday, did provide a statement to TTF. 

“I went through the Church disciplinary process and was disfellowshipped for about two years. I repented and there were no further incidents. I reported the abuse to the police, as I was instructed to by my Stake President, and the parents elected not to press charges.”

Police reports indicate the alleged victim “David” claimed Van Wagenen touched his privates during a sleepover at Van Wagenen’s home. 

“David” spoke to ABC4 News over the phone Monday, claiming Van Wagenen touched his penis while “David” was asleep on Van Wagenen’s couch during a sleepover at the home. “David” claimed Van Wagenen stopped touching him when he stirred awake, but he claimed he was “frozen” as the alleged abuse was occurring. 

“David” said he hid in the bathroom at Van Wagenen’s home for the remainder of the night, until he called his mother to come and get him the next morning. When he told his mother what had happened he said she was petrified.

“She looked like she had seen a ghost,” “David” told ABC4 News Monday. 

His mother contacted a local bishop for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to report the alleged abuse, “David” said.

“They told him and he said ‘well, I’m really close with Harold Brown, the stake president, and I will take care of this. Don’t worry. I will make sure it’s reported to the Church,'” he told ABC4 News. 

“David” said the abuse was handled internally by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Police reports indicate his parents chose not to press charges. “The families are supportive of Mr. Van Wagenen in working out this problem,” a police report from July 26, 1993 indicates. 

“The way it was put to my parents was that it was appropriate to let the Church handle it,” said “David,” who also indicated Van Wagenen underwent a disciplinary council for the alleged abuse. 

“David” said with the current climate around sexual abuse and religious organizations, what happened to him is still a “hangup” in his life.

“It just keeps resurfacing for me. I never got any kind of counseling or therapy or anything of the sort from the Church, I never got to talk to any Church leaders about this. I don’t know what he told the [Church council],'” he said. 

His main question right now is if there are any other victims of Mr. Van Wagenen. 

He said he wished his parents had pressed charges at the time. He also said he wished the Church would have involved him in its investigation. 

“Looking back I wish that there would have been some kind of — I wish the Church would have corrobrated the story [with me],” he told ABC4 News. “I’d like the church to do their due diligence to make sure they’re getting the whole story from victims.”

“I want to make it safe. If there’s anybody else who’s had similar or worse done to them, I want to make sure they feel safe to come forward.”

“My only hope is that if there are other victims out there, I hope I can give them courage…,” he said.

The audio of David’s interview with Van Wagenen can be found in the link above. 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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