A lot has been said about Britney Spears’ conservatorship, but missing from the conversation has been Britney’s own voice.
That changed this week when the pop singer gave public testimony and asked a judge to end her father’s control of her finances, career, and relationships.
"I’ve been in denial; I’ve been in shock; I am traumatized. I just want my life back," said Spears during the emotional statements.
As I reported a few months ago, a movement to “Free Britney” of her conservatorship, led by her fans, gained traction recently thanks to a high-profile documentary on the case. The film follows Spears’ rise to global fame, the mental breakdown she suffered as a result of constant stalking and predatory behavior at the hands of the media and general public, and the resulting conservatorship her father placed her under.
Since 2007, Spears has been heavily guarded and controlled. She lost primary custody of her children. She is reportedly given an allowance every week and required to log all of her expenses. She is not allowed to make unilateral decisions about her dating life, her business arrangements, or her property. Essentially, she has been stripped of her freedom and the bulk of her civil liberties.
Despite this devastating fate, the singer has continued to work and rake in millions of dollars per year. She has released four albums, headlined one of Las Vegas’ most-successful residencies, and increased her net worth to $60 million. To the majority of people observing the situation from the outside, she hasn’t seemed like someone incapable of running her own life.
Conservatorships are intended for those whose cognitive functions make them vulnerable to being taken advantage of. They can help families ensure their loved ones are not scammed out of money, that they receive the healthcare they may need, and that they are not duped into other situations, like marriage, by people who seek to take advantage of them.
Arguably, there is a place for this measure in a free society, but the system is rife with abuse, which presents a threat to human rights. As I explained in my earlier story, “A conservatorship is an almost complete negation of the natural right to self-ownership—which many philosophers hold to be the most fundamental of our rights.”
In 2016, a special committee on aging for the US Senate found nearly thirty cases of conservatorship abuse covered by the media in the past year alone. Most of the victims were women, and half of them lived in care facilities. According to a 2013 AARP report, 1.5 million Americans are under conservatorships at a given time, and many of those people end up being victimized. A 2010 Government Accountability Office guardianship review found that $5.4 million in assets was stolen from 158 victims after its review of only 20 cases (court appointed guardians often oversee multiple wards).
The risk of abuse coupled with the very grave nature of removing a person’s rights underscores the importance of treating conservatorships as a last resort. And when implemented, they should be accompanied by rigorous review, checks and balances, and pathways for individuals to regain their liberties. But seeing as these processes are not currently in place, it is clear that this system needs reform.
Thankfully, it seems Britney’s case is finally getting the scrutiny that it deserves. But if it is this hard for one of the most powerful female pop stars of all time to have her voice heard, just imagine what those of lesser means go through under this process.
It’s time for conservatorship reform. Let’s hope this is the catalyst.
Watch Britney's testimony in full here.