Murder case shines light on domestic violence victims

Photo courtesy Marisa Monfort

**Charlotte Mackay contributed to this article

Domestic violence took the lives of two SF State students in a two-year time span, the most recent case is ongoing.

The first victim was Cecilia Lam who was shot by her boyfriend in October 2014. He was released from jail for public intoxication prior to the incident and then later killed himself. Lam was pronounced dead at San Francisco General Hospital a few days later.

Just over two years after Lam’s death, in December 2016, Ariana Hatami was pronounced dead at SFGH after her boyfriend allegedly beat her with a bottle.

“She was so young,” said Marisa Monfort, SF State student and Hatami’s friend and former coworker. “She had just turned 23. She seriously had so many plans, she worked so hard and she was working so hard to graduate and she really wanted to own a business.”

Hatami and her boyfriend, Frederick Tran, 24, began dating after they met while working together at Wells Fargo. Daly City court records show Tran was placed on probation and ordered not to communicate with Hatami in October 2016 after he was convicted of a misdemeanor for assault and battery against her.

“Restraining orders are a wonderful tool to help protect people from abuse,” said Cori Manthorne, Community Overcoming Relationship Abuse in San Mateo director of programs, in an email. “For many, they are an effective way to divert the abusive behavior. At the same time, they are not bullet-proof shields.”

Daly City police took Tran into custody again two days before Hatami’s alleged murder for a probation violation. Tran posted a $25,000 bail and contacted Hatami the next day, asking her to allow him to stay at her apartment for one night, according to prosecutors.

Breanna Reeves

Hatami’s roommates reported hearing Tran hit her with a bottle around 1:20 a.m. and held him back while they called the police. The Daly City Police Department took Tran into custody upon arrival and rushed Hatami to San Francisco General Hospital, where she succumbed to her wounds.

Tran is facing pretrial Wednesday at 9.a.m. at the San Mateo Superior Court. He pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder, according to court documents.

Monfort questions the judgment made by the University to not send a campus-wide message notifying students of Hatami’s death, as they have done in the past for instances that affect student safety, such as the Ghost Ship warehouse fire or for various on-campus crimes.

“How is this under wraps but something like masturbating on campus is something that they send out,” Monfort said. “Yes that is awful, but this is life or death.”

Wong told Xpress editors in an interview that the decision came from a lack of family consent, little knowledge about the situation and an assessment of the broader impact on safety it had for other students.

“We try to use some ethical and professional judgment,” Wong said. “What gets in the way, what we think about often is: ‘Does the event impact campus safety in any way?’ In my experience of being around a lot of issues where students have died in a variety of ways, it gets down to the respectful relationship between the family and the University.”

J. Elizabeth Smith, SF State associate vice president for marketing and strategic communications, confirmed in the same interview that the president’s office did not attempt to contact Hatami’s family.

“I am not speaking for President Wong,” Smith said. “To me, an incident of domestic violence has an opportunity for communication, but it is also a time to be respectful of one’s family and someone’s personal experience.”

Statistics show domestic abuse is a reality for a large percentage of college students.

Nearly half of all college women who date report experiencing violence or abuse in their relationships, and females between the ages of 16 and 24 experience rates of domestic violence triple the national average, according to loveisrespect, a project of the National Domestic Violence Hotline to empower youth.

“If you look at (Hatami’s) case, you look at their pictures together, there’s nothing you can really infer from that,” said Shaena Spoor, program assistant for Women Organized to Make Abuse Nonexistent, Inc. “Maybe this person is really well-liked in his social circles, maybe he’s a really great brother or son, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that that person’s not capable of being abusive.”

Others, including Hatami’s friend, advocate that awareness is key when trying to prevent domestic violence from happening in the future.

“This is probably so common and maybe all it would have taken (is) for someone to have that wakeup call. If they had just seen an email saying, ‘Last night, at one in the morning, Ariana Hatami died in a hospital after her boyfriend attacked her. If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, call, do this, seek this, you have these options,’” Monfort said.

Every relationship is different, but Spoor said there are some common warning signs that a partner may be abusive.

“In an unhealthy or abusive relationship we have what you call the cycle of violence: in between tension-building, and then explosion, and making back up with the partner,” Spoor said. “In healthy relationships, you’re looking for forward movement and generally growing together as a team.”

Spoor explained that an abusive partner may also exhibit jealousy of friends and family, lack of trust, control tendencies, being quick to anger and often putting their partner down. Emotional abuse is a common thread in all types of unhealthy relationships, which may also include physical, sexual or financial abuse.

“In abusive relationships, it is not uncommon for one party to follow or harass the other, monitor their phone or email and limit their interactions with others,” Manthorne said in an email.

A person who is afraid to make decisions independent of their partner or constantly worries about their partner’s wants may be in an abusive relationship, according to Spoor.

Spoor stressed the importance of listening to others who may be showing signs of abuse, but statistics from loveisrespect show that nearly 60 percent of college students say domestic abuse is difficult to identify, and they don’t know how to help someone who is experiencing it.

“First and foremost, believe survivors and express concern for their safety when and if necessary,” Spoor said. “When you take the isolation piece out, you’re really part of that supportive network, and that makes a big difference whether that person decides ‘I’m going to leave and I also have people I can go to if I choose to do that.’”

Besides listening and supporting survivors of domestic abuse, it can save a life to offer resources when necessary.

Breanna Reeves

SF State’s SAFE place is an on-campus resource for students experiencing sexual assault, domestic violence, sexual harassment and stalking. They are equipped with a professional staff to provide information and support in preventing and helping survivors of domestic abuse.

The SAFE Place provides a hotline and a list of other local resources that can provide survivors with support groups, therapy and even shelter if needed.

“Developing a safety plan, learning new skills and therapy can often assist in that healing process,” Manthorne said.

Friends of victims can have a major impact by being present and paying attention. Even if it doesn’t seem like the victim is in a life-or-death situation, a lot more may be going on behind closed doors.

“If you see signs, you should always ask,” Monfort said. “It doesn’t hurt to ask, but it is going to hurt if it is too late and you are wondering what you could have done.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, you can call the 24-hour W.O.M.A.N., Inc. hotline at 877-384-3578 or SF State’s SAFE Place hotline at 415-338-2222.