Here, let me set the scene for you.
It's a beautiful crisp day in late October, and Emily is carrying a tray of 1 coffee, 2 chai lattes, and 1 hot chocolate back to the film studio she works at. We're only two years removed from the stock market collapse of 2008, and the Canadian dollar for once is at par with the American dollar. Good news for everyone else, terrible news for Vancouver's film industry. She's the only one of her graduating class that has found a job in the industry, so even though it's technically an internship and therefor feels justified in only paying her $3/hour, she sticks with it. She's still young and naive, and has bought the lie that the internship will turn into a full position some day. But she also likes the three guys she shares the small office with, she likes fact their office is its own building completely separated from the politics of the main studio, she likes the people at the post house across the street, and even though it's all for the worst director in the world, she likes the work. Plus they give her an allowance for lunch, so that's not so bad.
There, scene all nice and set for you? Good. Now don't look away, because I'm about to show you the precise moment that nearly ruins Emily's life.
Balancing the tray in one arm, she pulls open the heavy door to their office and only just manages to slip inside before it slams shut.
"Oh hai!" Mike shouts from his desk, as he always does.
"Yo," she replies, walking through the lobby to their shared office. It's a cramped maze of desks, the four of them shoved against each wall. Their boss isn't there, but Kobe has his head down behind his desk, once again on the phone with his fiancee. He gives her a small smile but nothing more when she sets his drink down on his desk. She turns to bring Mike his drink, but he's already calling her over, tying his long hair back into a ponytail.
"Hey," he says as she approaches. "What music were you talking about again?" Confused, she comes around behind his desk, and when her eyes land on his computer her blood freezes. While she was out grabbing their drinks, he'd taken her external hard drive, her personal external hard drive, and plug it into his computer. She's trying not to panic as she sets his latte down and leans forward.
"Uh," she says. You can see her stalling, the gears turning rapidly in her brain as she tries to remember where it is, and what she can do to stop this as quickly as possible. She convinces herself that she'll be okay. She's buried them deep enough in case of this exact scenario. He's not going to find them. Why would he even look? "Right there," she continues, voice a little steadier as she points to a 'music' folder. "Asaf Avidan...yeah that one. You'd probably like Paul & Storm too." He copies the music to his desktop, grabs a few movies as well, and she breathes a sigh of relief. He'd got what he came for. They were done.
But then, Mike looks at her, smiles, and says something she will never forget.
"So what else do you have on here?"
Emily tenses visibly, you see this clearly as he does. "Nothing really," her suddenly dry throat manages to creak. The frightened quiver in her words is practically an open invitation, and Mike starts digging. With every click deeper, Emily finds herself shaking harder. He's not just clicking randomly. He's being methodical, following each and every folder path to its end. He's smiling the whole time. "Mike...can you just...stop it," she says. Her eyes are fixated on the screen. She can't look away as folders open into others. If you looks closely you can see the hand resting on his desk curled and gripping it with white knuckles. She can't even move. The deeper he digs, the more Emily simply shuts down, terror and dread taking over until she's fully paralyzed both physically and mentally. She hates herself in that moment. When she thinks back on it to this day, she still hates herself. There was so much she could have...should have done. But in that moment Emily is a social anxiety riddled intern desperately clinging to the only work she's found in a painfully sexist industry. Mike has more than just the controls. He has the power. He's her boss, he's twice her age, he's supposed to be her friend. So all she does, all she'll ever do, is desperately appeal to the basic human decency she prays they share.
"Please don't..." And that's all she manages before he opens another folder and it's done.
"What's this?" he asks. There's amusement and disgust mixed in his voice. He scrolls down through the files, reading the nondescript names in his head until he hits one a little more obvious. "'Bed strangle'?" he asks. Emily's eyes haven't left the screen, but she can still see his smile out of the corner of her eye. "Is that really--" He takes his hands off the mouse to mime choking someone, laughing incredulously as he does. She can't move, can't stop him from opening the short video and confirming that yes, it is. He laughs again. He's found what he hoped he would. Even better than he'd hoped. He clicks around more, and when he hits the first image of a woman trapped in the coils of a snake, his amusement turns to surprise. "What the hell is this?!" He's delighted. Emily hasn't spoken or moved since he opened the folder. There's nothing more to do or say. She can't help but be surprised at the fact that she's not crying. She's just completely numb. Mike clicks through more images and videos of snakes coiled around and squeezing beautiful women until he's had enough and finally unmounts the hard drive, handing it back to Emily. He says something to her, but she doesn't hear it. She doesn't register or recall any interactions with either of them for the rest of the day.
Let's jump ahead a bit.
It's a few months later now, and Mike hasn't mentioned the incident. Emily certainly hasn't brought it up. Work at the studio has picked up, providing a much appreciated distraction, and they've even given her a raise; a whole $4.5/hour. She still sees it as better than nothing. In case you hadn't already guessed, this is not a story about someone able to stand up for themselves.
Their small office has also developed a mouse problem. On this particular afternoon, while their boss is once again absent, Emily, Mike, and Kobe are taking a break from working to discuss ways of dealing with the infestation.
"We should get a cat," Emily suggests with an excited smile.
"Boomer would kill it," Mike says, in reference to one of the two giant dogs the worst director in the world occasionally dumps on them to babysit. "How about a snake?"
"Yeah," Kobe adds with a smirk. "Emily would love that." Emily's smile leaves her in an instant. This is when she realizes that Mike not only found what she desperately wanted to keep hidden, but he told others. He could have told anyone. She leaves the conversation with all the grace of a drunken hippo, simply turning her back to them to work in silence. She doesn't defend herself.
And she never will. She'll never ask for an apology. She'll never ask them to leave her alone about it. She'll never even take it to HR, fearing that the only one who will be punished would be herself; the expendable intern who is obviously the one at fault for having such offensive material in her possession in the first place.
She'll never speak to anyone about it, and even four years after finally quitting, it will still haunt her.