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What We Can Learn From Britney Spears Finally Speaking Up in Court

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Editor's Note

If you have experienced emotional abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

On Wednesday June 23, 2021, Britney Spears finally had the chance to make a virtual statement to a judge in the ongoing case regarding ending her 13 year old conservatorship. Spears alleges numerous abuses by her father, Jamie Spears, her therapist and others including overworking her, keeping her trapped at home, not giving her any bodily autonomy including forcing her to keep an IUD she’d like removed so that she can have a baby and over medicating her into compliance.

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 The list of accusations are not shocking or unexpected. In the documentary “Framing Britney Spears,” which premiered on Hulu earlier this year, the tumultuous circumstances which led to the conservatorship and alleged abuses are well chronicled and concern for her welfare have been circulating for a long time. What was missing was Britney’s side of the story, as Britney herself had gone radio silent.

 Now that Britney has finally spoken, we need to have a conversation about the legitimacy of her conservatorship continuing and the problematic nature of this kind of legal arrangement even existing. First off, having a mental illness does not mean one is incapable of thinking for themselves nor does it render them incompetent. Plenty of people with mental illnesses thrive with proper treatment and care, so using that as a litmus test for mental capacity is an extremely dangerous precedent to establish. Additionally, even if someone does have a “mental breakdown” requiring more constant and involved care this doesn’t mean they will require said care permanently and basing legal decisions with such enormous consequences as conservatorship should require far more stringent regulations than what currently exist.

While the precise legal definition of and preconditions to warrant a conservatorship vary from state to state, the basic premise of all of them are the same, to protect individuals who may not have the mental capacity to make sound decisions on their own behalves from being taken advantage of or inadvertently doing something that would be in conflict with their own best interests. These arrangements were originally designed to protect aging individuals with considerable assets but were expanded to include those with severely unmanaged mental health conditions and disabled people. Even though the rules regarding determining need for this kind of care are stringent and appointed conservators carefully vetted, abuses occur regularly and the onus on having a conservatorship reversed rests with the individual who has been determined to be incapacitated, something that is very difficult, time consuming and often expensive to prove.

 As Britney points out in her testimony according to numerous reports, if everything you do is monitored 24/7 and regulated, even being able to obtain the necessary legal advice to terminate a conservatorship can be impossible. Spears describes the arrangement as “embarrassing,” “abusive” and “demoralizing” and compares it to the exploitation of sex trafficking. She also notes skepticism of the psychiatrist entrusted with her care suggesting he caused her more harm than good by abruptly changing her medications to lithium which made her “feel drunk.”

All of this shines a light upon how abuses occur in these cases and why reforms are necessary in terms of monitoring the well being of and actual mental capacity of those deemed worthy of becoming conservatees. Obviously Britney is an extreme case due to her status, celebrity and wealth, but…if someone with her means and privilege can get trapped into such an abusive arrangement, imagine how easily a person of average means could be taken advantage of? I don’t have the answers, but I do believe more oversight needs to exist by uninvolved third parties who can regularly check in on conservatees to ensure that they are being treated with dignity and humanity and not being exploited.

Lead image via Britney Spears Instagram

Originally published: June 24, 2021
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