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 and the discovery of more victims.

Part 1 – A full audio recording of Sean’s confrontation with Sterling Van Wagenen:

Part 2 – Sean describes how the abuse affected his life:

Part 1

Download MP3

Part 2

Download MP3


  1. Paul May 9, 2019 at 4:41 pm - Reply

    How was Sterling able to get an ecclesiastical endorsement from his Bishop or stake president to work at BYU if he was disfellowshiped for 2 years following the abuse? The headline would have been “BYU professor abuses young boy at sleepover”. Cover up, protect the image of the church.

  2. Shannon Fisher May 9, 2019 at 6:49 pm - Reply

    The abuse topic is horrifying, and was a very educating experience. On top of that I so enjoyed Swan and Crystals expression of freedom and love found in leaving organized religion. As a person (& husband) who have left the reorganized LDS ( community of Christ) I totally get it. You just can’t see things clearly until you get out. There is nothing like it for gifting yourself with good mental health and real happiness.
    Thank you….your sharing is So much appreciated!,,,

  3. Brent May 10, 2019 at 7:21 pm - Reply

    Every parent should hear this. Parenting 101.
    Thank you for your story. Thanks to everyone that helps bring these stories to light.
    I love you all.
    My donation is on its way. However I would love to see a billboard about this. But even more so my billboard would say something about the Y and brother Brigham. I can’t believe that a school is named after him.
    Nothing but love.

  4. marty May 13, 2019 at 10:04 am - Reply

    I am so sorry this happened to you or anyone for that matter. When I was in 7th grade a history teacher was accused of abuse. The church came out in absolute support of him, literally saying that had prayed about it an new he was innocent. The 2nd girl that accuses him of abuse the church was still supportive, but not as strong. The 3rd girl that accused him, he finally admitted his guilt. Funny thing every kid in that school new the truth. Every 7th grade girl new to stay away from him unless the wanted to be felt up.

    I hope that some day you will come to know this is man’s weakness, man’s inability to recognize and admit their own darkness. It in no way reflects the love the divine has for you. You are loved so much more than this by the divine.

    Thank you for telling your story. I hope some day the sadness in your eyes returns to love and joy and the light that shined from them when you were a child.
    I send you love and joy.
    kindred soul

  5. Sydney May 17, 2019 at 10:39 am - Reply

    Wow this is so horrible and sad. Please help this go viral and further into the LDS communities so hopefully members will start to look further into their own religion. Knowledge is power and the church encourages its members to not look beyond their tightly knit circle. If members only knew the real truth of their religion. Being ex-mormon is so wonderful and relieving.

  6. Scott Brady May 18, 2019 at 11:30 am - Reply

    This entire thing is tragic. There is no excuse for abuse regardless of any mental problems of the perpetrator. I think however the finger pointing is in the wrong direction. The reason for this is a true logical analysis of this situation makes those involved feel uncomfortable. On an emotional level finger pointing at a rich corporate empire like the LDS church is easier. Sterling is first and foremost the most responsible for this crime, that nothing was done about it the responsibility is solely with the parents. The parents level of responsibility is far higher than the church. Parents are the ones obligated to protect their own children, this was a monumental failure on their part. If there is any awareness to be made is when crimes are committed it is law enforcement that is to be contacted, I thought that was common knowledge but I was completely wrong. To say you called a Bishop and “assumed the church would take care of it” is completely naive. If an employee or stock holder of Walmart assaulted my child I wouldn’t call Walmart and assume they would take care of it. That’s absurd. The church doesn’t have the authority to handle a crime anymore than Walmart. Giving the perpetrator a “spanking” by excommunication is not taking care of it anyway. Logically speaking this was a case of parental neglect, not a corporate cover up.

    • Wondering Wanderer May 26, 2019 at 7:19 am - Reply

      Scott Brady, shame on you. You show a tremendous lack of understanding and compassion in blaming parents. It has a devastating impact on parents to find out their child has been sexually abused by a trusted family member, friend, neighbor, or respected priesthood holder. Parents are shocked and thrown into an emotional turmoil which can be paralyzing. They have no idea what to do or what would be best for their child. Unless someone they love or they themselves have previously been molested as a child, they will know nothing about recognizing a pedophile or helping a victim. When a trusted church leader is reassuring and says he will handle it all for them, it is a lifeline they gladly grab.

      Surely, the church has a responsibility to protect its children. Surely the church should give parents the information they need that will make them aware of a clear and present danger to their children. If there were a rattlesnake loose in your house, wouldn’t you warn anyone coming into the house about the danger? Wouldn’t you see to it that the snake was caught and caged?

      Sean’s parents were trying to protect him from further damage that could be done by the justice system, the media, the public, and from the derision, name calling, or bullying he would face in the neighborhood, at school, and by faithful church members who would refuse to believe him over a trusted adult. Today It may be safer to report molestation to the police than it was years ago, especially in states where victim’s names are kept confidential by the courts, and because there is so much more awareness of the pervasiveness of sex offenders, and more understanding and support available for victims and their families now. Parents in the church should take their child to a non-LDS psychologist/family therapist experienced in helping child victims, rather than accepting the free services of LDS Social Services, which could have a conflict of interest. If the church was already aware that a person was a molester before additional children were molested, surely the church should pay for any services needed to help them heal, and should allow the parents to choose their own professionals.

  7. Garth May 18, 2019 at 7:37 pm - Reply

    Scott, you make a very good point, however, in defense of Sean’s parents, if they truly believed that Jesus Christ is the literal head of the only true and living church on the face of the earth and that leaders are called by God, it’s understandable that they could feel that it was safe to leave it to the leaders. The Walmart analogy is not a good one, in my opinion, because very few people believe that Jesus Christ leads and guides the store’s business affairs.

  8. Janeen Thompson May 24, 2019 at 1:49 am - Reply

    I found this to be a riveting story and so glad it had a happy ending for Sean. I was surprised though, that in the discussion about the recording, it was never mentioned that Sterling was molested as a child by his mother! While this is absolutely no excuse, it does bring understanding of why Sterling has the problems that he has. It is clear evidence of the vicious cycle that begins with sex abuse and underscores why it is so important to bring these cases out in the open so that there is a chance to break that cycle.

  9. Wondering Wanderer May 26, 2019 at 8:58 am - Reply

    When Van Wagenen denied that there were other victims, denied that he produced temple films, and left out so many details of the night of the abuse, I think it revealed that he is still a deceitful, self-serving man. I have no doubt that there were many more victims. I think his willingness to make admissions about other things was in the hopes of gaining credibility with Sean. I think he wanted yet another “pass” and wanted to continue to avoid paying for his crimes. Saying that the atonement never worked for him and giving positive responses to Sean’s reasons for leaving the church was an effort to establish a rapport over the failings of the church. Offering to speak again with Sean and help him in any way that he could was a desperate attempt to move into the role of a concerned helper, and away from the role of the destroyer of Sean’s peace of mind. Van Wagenen’s imitation of an old, wise, understanding man of the church did not work for me. It felt disingenuous. His sad story of abuse by his mother and lifelong depression and anxiety was an attempt to humanize himself and excuse something that is really inexcusable.

    Van Wagenen’s tone seemed very flat and unemotional to me.. I think that a truly penitent person who really understood the nature of what he had done and the impact it had on a young boy for the rest of his life, would be in tears as he spoke of it and apologized for it face to face with his victim. Instead he spoke without choking up, without his voice cracking once. I would expect him to be sobbing as he listened to Sean describe that night, and his shock, his fear, his panic. How could anyone who is a caring or “nice” person keep from welling up with tears when he has the image in his head of himself molesting a young, innocent, vulnerable, boy sleeping on a couch only feet away from his own two sons. Sean is shedding many, many tears when speaking of this. Why isn’t Van Wagenen? Sorry, but I am not buying it. I don’t think he showed genuine remorse. It was obvious that he was afraid that Sean might publicly expose him, and he was trying to do everything he could to win Sean’s forgiveness. Child molesters care about no on but themselves. They are predatory. The are manipulative. I could hear that in his voice as he smoothly tried to curry some favor and pity. My gut churns when I think of extending a hand of forgiveness to someone who is capable of victimizing innocent children. It is a bridge too far.

  10. Freedom West June 8, 2019 at 7:01 pm - Reply

    Wandering Wanderer,
    You have great ideas and you say it very well. Thank you very much for making things so clear.

  11. Emma July 12, 2019 at 7:33 am - Reply

    Sterling is not a nice person or a good person. It is all a false image he creates

    Sorry Sean

    The basic requirement to be a good person is treating others with respect.

    He is like the whited sepulchral that has death within

    He is an expert At Giving an outward appearance that looks and sounds good. But inwardly he is rotten. Don’t be fooled

    It is evil to abuse innocent children who are affected for life

    Please don’t say he is a good person

    He is a bad person who did bad bings to you
    It was his choice

  12. Emma July 12, 2019 at 7:39 am - Reply

    Sterling is not a good person. He is a bad person

    He is s master actor who creates an outward appearance to hide his evil heart and mind

    You don’t need to forgive him or try to see the good in him

    What is the definition of The worst person? One who abuses innocent children

  13. Heidi Hansen August 19, 2019 at 4:44 pm - Reply

    Amen!!! I used to be one of those women that thought it was ok to let the men have the authority. I didn’t think there was a need for women to be in charge because the men were the protectors. WOW! Was I brainwashed. I truly feel that women need to be able to be in positions of authority in the LDS church to help give better wisdom and help make better decisions!!!

  14. Cristi Jenkins June 22, 2021 at 1:17 pm - Reply

    This speaks a truth all of its own. “For the second time this month, Latter-day Saint filmmaker Sterling Van Wagenen was given a prison sentence for sexually assaulting a young girl.” July 9, 2019

  15. Boogie Woogit October 14, 2022 at 10:56 am - Reply

    It’s surprising Sean seems to genuinely believe this man. I bet dozens of pedophilia victims of this cunning liar

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