Operation Keepsake, Inc.: Teen Dating Violence Awareness Through the Art of Student-Driven Filmmaking

May 12, 2021
Love Struck

In the U.S., roughly 33 percent of adolescents experience sexual, physical, verbal, and/or emotional dating abuse1. However, only one-third of youth confide in someone about it2. Operation Keepsake, Inc. Visit disclaimer page (OK, Inc.) is committed to increasing awareness of teen dating violence among youth through the art of filmmaking. This Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program’s Sexual Risk Avoidance Education (SRAE) grantee designed the Friends4Friends Campaign in 2013 based on the assumption that youth are more likely to self-disclose incidences of abuse to a close friend than to any other person. The campaign uses an innovative approach to facing teen dating violence, one that exposes the dangers of dating abuse while developing the personal agency of students.

OK, Inc. is a beacon in Northeast Ohio, serving more than 16,000 middle and high school youth in more than 120 schools and youth organizations each year. Due to high levels of interest, partnering schools compete for their students’ participation in film production. Production teams start by first gathering a small group of peer leaders (students from neighboring schools) and a peer leader advisor, usually a health teacher or guidance counselor, who is responsible for overseeing the production process. Each short film is student-driven — students write the script, manage the lighting, compose the songs, and even star in the films.

Executive Director Peggy Pecchio encourages the student-driven process. “We could go out and find drama experts,” she says. “But thinking through the script is a part of youth development. It helps them tell their own story from their perspectives.

Friends4Friends Film Festival 



To date, students have developed 42 films, with six highlighting dating violence. Each short film is different and reflective of student creativity, but they all include three main characters: a victim, a friend, and a responsible adult. The plot formula for each film positions a teen to empower a fellow friend who is being victimized, hence the name Friends4Friends™ Campaign. The next step is to involve a responsible adult to advocate on behalf of both the friend and the victim. The completed films are showcased in an annual red-carpet Friends4Friends™ Film Festival to students, parents, community members, and the press. The OK, Inc. YouTube Visit disclaimer page library has more than 100 million views from 100 counties worldwide, including the U.S., U.K., and Canada.

Beyond the glamour of video production and red-carpet events, OK, Inc. leadership and staff remain focused on the real mission. “The end goal is not the film,” says Program Liaison Deborah Landis. “Instead, the most rewarding outcome is that students develop their voice and learn to speak up for themselves.”

In the classroom, the short films are a companion resource for SRAE programming, and the imagery assists students in identifying the differences between healthy and unhealthy romantic relationships. For fellow SRAE grantees who might be interested in trying short film production, Landis says it is deceptively easy. “All you need is a camera,” she says.

As a result of the films, students have had astonishing realizations about destructive behaviors that they didn’t know were abuse. Pecchio warns others, “Be prepared for self-disclosure and develop a policy for when it happens.”

1 The NO MORE Project. "Dating Abuse Statistics." www.loveisrespect.org. Accessed April 22, 2014; https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-teen-dating-violence#fn4 Visit disclaimer page

2 Hattersley Gray, Robin. "Dating Abuse Statistics." School Safety. Accessed April 22, 2014; Youth.gov. Youth Topics. Dating Violence Prevention. Prevalence. https://youth.gov/youth-topics/prevalence-teen-dating-violenc Visit disclaimer page