When Olivia* finished dance classes at Vienna Dance Studio on the evening of Nov. 22, 2000, her mother didn't notice anything unusual. But a year later, Olivia's mother would play back the evening over and over again in her mind, combing her memory for signs. Because on that day, something happened to Olivia that would give her nightmares and steal away her dreams.
"Believe me, I've wondered a zillion times, why couldn't I see?" said Olivia's mother, who picked up her daughter that evening in the family car, just as she had on other evenings.
Around 6 p.m. on that November day, while returning to the dance studio from a dinner break, Olivia, then 13, was approached by a stranger who she said dragged her to a wooded area near the Washington & Old Dominion Trail. There, he and two other men raped her. One man, blond, had repeatedly told her he was 25, while the other men, with dark hair, looked younger. All were white, but one might have been Hispanic.
The incident had allegedly occurred behind the Whole Foods market near the wall of a parking lot in the neighboring office complex, just feet away from bustling Maple Avenue.
"You didn't think stuff like that happens in Vienna," said Olivia's mother. "People need to know."
Olivia and her mother reported the crime to the Vienna Police in November 2003, three years after the incident had occurred. It was only at that time that Olivia, now 16, felt comfortable talking with others about what had happened to her.
Vienna police have said they are currently investigating the incident.
"They feel like people will judge them harshly. They fear it is their fault," said Doreen Simpson Gullo, a sexual assault therapist with the Fairfax County Victim Assistance Network, a county agency.
FOR A YEAR AFTER the crime occurred, Olivia couldn't remember that she had been raped. It was only after a friend asked the disturbed Olivia if she was raped that Olivia remembered.
"Totally blocking it out is typical of trauma," said Olivia's mother. "To just pretend it never happened. Even at the point that she was able to start talking, she still didn't remember a lot. ... It wasn't until she got better that I realized how severe the cognitive impacts were on her concentration, focus, on taking a test and being able to recall what you studied."
Olivia gradually recalled the details from the evening while attending therapy and taking anti-depressants. She credited her family and friends for helping her through the crisis.
"I definitely wouldn't be here without friends and family," Olivia said.
Although Olivia reported the incident three years after it had occurred, Gullo said allowing victims time to speak benefits the healing process.
"You listen. Basically believe the person. Offer to help her sort it out, or help her get assistance to sort it out," Gullo said.... It's actually helpful to not be overbearing in giving advice. Unless the person is injured, one of the things that needs to happen for the survivor is to feel empowered to help again."
Olivia and her mother hoped to spread the news about what had happened to her so that others would take heed to their story.
"I think parents need the message too, that this happened. Warn your children," said Olivia's mother.
Until then, Olivia has been working to piece her life back together, from taking dance classes to improving her academic transcript for college. Since the rape, dancing has been difficult.
"It was my world," said Olivia of dance. "It was what I was. It was what I did. It was all I loved. It was the people. It was everything. And that was completely taken from me."
* The victim and her mother requested that their real names not be used.