Britney Spears’ conservatorship reveals many common tactics of abuse

July 7, 2021

Activation Warning: This blog contains descriptions of abuse, which may be difficult to read. 

Britney Spears is no stranger to the limelight. After all, she’s been a public figure in some form or fashion since she was an 11-year-old mouseketeer on the Mickey Mouse Club. But her explosion into the public eye really began on September 28, 1998, with the release of her first single, “… Baby One More Time.” 

From that moment on, Spears was a household name, and she was under constant scrutiny and exploitation for the 23 years that followed. 

In 2021, Spears remains in the spotlight, but it’s not because of a new single or album. 

Rather, it’s due to the alleged abuse that she’s suffered from members of her family for the past 13-plus years. 

Spears, even with her fame, fortune, resources, and public notoriety, is the perfect example of domestic abuse showing no discrimination, and why abuse is much more than physical harm. 

#FreeBritney 

The #FreeBritney movement started at  the beginning of the conservatorship that Spears’ father, Jamie, had put into place in 2008. It really came to the forefront on social media and in the news in 2019, when Britney Spears was checked into a mental health facility after she canceled her latest string of Las Vegas shows following her father’s health issues. 

Fans immediately worried that Britney Spears was being held against her will, and that’s when the discussion around the conservatorship really started happening at a larger level. 

The attention around it picked up steam with celebrities and fans alike, and the New York Times released a documentary as part of their Hulu series “The New York Times Presents,” titled “Framing Britney Spears.” 

Since that was released in February 2021, the #FreeBritney hashtag has been consistently a worldwide trend on social media platforms, rallying behind the end of the conservatorship. 

The push has seemed to work. Spears, who has previously denied any wrongdoing in the past—likely due to coercive control tactics used by her conservators—is now coming forward and speaking out on the abuse she’s endured. 

“I truly believe this conservatorship is abusive” 

On Wednesday, June 23, Spears broke her silence via phone in a court-ordered conservatorship hearing, speaking out against her father and the team he put in place to run every aspect of her life for the past 13-plus years.  

Throughout the hearing, Spears gave in-depth detail to the manipulation, control, and domestic abuse that she’s endured. 

Domestic abuse.  

That’s the key phrase that we need to home in on here. 

Because family abuse is part of domestic violence. 

Because abuse comes in many forms and fashion. 

Because abuse doesn’t discriminate.  

Because if Spears, a white cisgender woman who has all the resources at her disposal, is experiencing domestic abuse, then abuse can happen to anyone and, just as importantly, by anyone.  

And, as we saw June 30, despite the support, resources, money, and stature, the court sided with the alleged abuser.  

We can see this play out in the court system too. A judge ruled in favor of Jamie Spears from a November request from Britney Spears’ attorney to remove the conservatorship. 

Throughout this blog, we’re going to discuss the different dynamics of Spears’ abuse, and why it’s important to recognize these types of behavior as domestic violence.  

Gaslighting 

From 2008, at the start of the conservatorship, until present day, the entire Spears journey appears to have been filled with gaslighting.  

Gaslighting is an insidious form of manipulation and psychological control. Victims of gaslighting are deliberately and systematically fed false information that leads them to question what they know to be true, often about themselves. 

In this instance, gaslighting may have occurred even before the conservatorship was in place. 

Spears was presented in the public eye as someone who was mentally unstable, and someone who was unable to look after herself. 

From a “Rolling Stones” cover featuring a then-17-year-old Spears on a bed, in an unbuttoned shirt, fully exposing a bra and underwear, to the still-present memes and jokes when Spears shaved her head, Spears has been gaslit by not only her father, but also by the media coverage that she’s received.  

It’s very possible that Spears’ dad used his privilege and power as a white male to control every aspect of her life while continuing the gaslighting. 

“I want a petition basically to end the conservatorship, but I want it to be a petition to end up I don’t want to be evaluated to be sat in a room with people for hours a day like they did me before, and they made it even worse for me after that happened so I just … I’m honestly new at this, and I’m doing research on all these things I do know common sense and the method that things can end,” said Spears during her hearing. “For people that has ended without them being evaluated so I just want you to take that in consideration. I’ve also done research.” 

For the longest time, it appears Spears was unaware that she had the right to petition for the end of the conservatorship, and she wasn’t aware that she had the autonomy. 

One of the areas where Spears has been gaslit the most is when it comes to her mental capacity. 

That’s how the concern started from fans, after all. Her mental state was highlighted in 2007 when she attacked a member of the paparazzi’s car with an umbrella, and she was sent to a mental health facility after her father’s colon ruptured in 2019.. 

There’s been a continued attack on Spears’ mental health, which seems to have left her with an inability to trust people … even when going to therapy. 

“Number one. I’m scared of people,” Spears said. “I don’t trust people and the clever set up of being in Westlake, one of the most exposed places in Westlake, which today, yesterday paparazzi showed me coming out of the place, literally crying. It’s embarrassing and it’s demoralizing.  

“I deserve privacy when I go. I deserve privacy when I go and have therapy, either at my home like I’ve done for eight years, they’ve always come to my home. Or with Dr. Benson.”  

Spears added, “I’ve done more than enough. I don’t owe these people, anything…It’s embarrassing and it’s demoralizing, what I’ve been through, and that’s the main reason. I’ve never said it openly. And mainly I didn’t want to say it openly because I honestly don’t think anyone would believe me.” 

Economic abuse 

PCADV defines economic (or financial) abuse as when “one intimate partner has control over the other partner’s ability to access, acquire, use or maintain economic resources, which diminishes the victim’s capacity to support themselves and forces intentioned dependence.” 

In the Spears case, economic abuse appears to be prevalent. Under the conservatorship, Jamie Spears has control of his daughter’s estimated $60 million estate. With that control, Britney, 39, doesn’t have a say in her expenses and finances, making her intentionally dependent on her father. 

“It’s been a long time since I’ve owned my money, and it’s my wish, my dream for all of this to end without being tested again,” Spears said. “It makes no sense whatsoever for the state of California to sit back and literally watch me with their own two eyes make a living for so many people and take so many people — trucks and buses — on the road with me and be told I’m not good enough.” 

Spears, prior to calling the conservatorship abusive, said that if she can work, earn money, and provide for herself, that she shouldn’t be under a conservatorship. 

“It makes no sense. The laws need to change,” Spears said. “What state allows people to own another person’s money and accounts and threaten them saying ‘you can’t see your money unless you do what we want you to do’ and I’m paying them and I was since I was 17 years old.” 

Even though financial abuse occurs in 98 percent of abusive relationships, 78 percent of Americans don’t recognize financial abuse as domestic abuse. 

Guardianship abuse 

While domestic abuse is often associated with intimate partner violence (IPV), it can come in all forms and fashion. 

That’s where family abuse comes in and, more specifically in this case, guardianship abuse. 

Britney Spears’ father was appointed as the sole conservator for the past 13 years, starting when she was 26 years old. Now 39, Jamie Spears still has a say in the everyday happenings in his daughter’s life – including controlling when and how she can see her children. 

Britney Spears has two children (14 and 15) with former husband Kevin Federline. At the time  the conservatorship began, the children were both infants. Even though they are now teenagers, Spears is limited in the amount of time she’s able to see them. 

The parental arrangement, as of 2019, gives Federline 70 percent custody and Spears 30 percent. The matter of parental custody was brought to the court when Federline filed a police report against Jamie Spears after an alleged physical altercation with the then-13-year-old child. 

Though Britney Spears received 30 percent parental rights in 2019, she was fighting for 50 percent. But due to the perceived ineptness and the planted sense of irresponsibility from her father, she was unable to get that. 

With the conservatorship, the court has ruled that Spears is unable to provide properly when it comes to food, clothing, or shelter, and that trickles down to her children. 

But Spears argues against that notion.  

“Once you see someone, whoever it is in the conservatorship, making money, making them money, and myself money and working. That whole, that whole statement right there, the conservatorship should end,” Spears said. 

Nearly a week after Spears went on record, Federline released a statement in support of his former partner: 

“What is best for her, Kevin supports her in being able to do that,” the statement read. “It doesn’t matter how positive of an effect a conservatorship has had if it’s having a deleterious effect and detrimental effect on her state of mind. So, he supports her having the best environment for her to live in and for his children to visit with their mother in.” 

Reproductive coercion 

While Spears has her two children from Federline, she’s been with her partner, Sam Asghari, since 2016. 

Although the conservator-controlled social media accounts have featured photos of Spears and Asghari together over the years, there doesn’t appear to be lot of freedom in the relationship. 

“I’d like for my boyfriend to be able to drive me in his car …and I would like to progressively move forward, and I want to have the real deal,” Spears said. “I want to be able to get married and have a baby. I was told right now on the conservatorship, [that] I’m not able to get married or have a baby. I have an IUD inside of myself right now so I don’t get pregnant.” 

It appears the IUD isn’t by choice, as Spears went on to say, “I wanted to take the I[U]D out so I could start trying to have another baby. But this so-called team won’t let me go to the doctor to take it out because they don’t want me to have any children, any more children.” 

This is reproductive coercion. 

PCADV defines reproductive coercion as the use of coercive tactics related to reproduction and reproductive health to gain power and control.  

This can include:  

The reproductive coercion that Spears is experiencing is a common abuse tactic, especially among those with disabilities due to actual or perceived mental health issues. 

In fact, reproductive coercion against women due to perceived or actual mental health issues can be traced back to the 1800s, when a gynecological surgeon named Robert Battey performed ovariotomies as a treatment for “nervous disorders and emotional instability.” 

These forced procedures by Battey are early examples of lack of reproductive freedom for women, which were especially prevalent among women of color. 

From the 1920s until the 1980s, there was a procedure that was coined as the “Mississippi Appendectomy” that took place in Mississippi and South Carolina. 

The procedure, which was performed on more than 8,000 women of color, is an involuntary sterilization procedure that targeted lower-class Black women. 

For reference, the procedure was still taking place in the 1980s. Britney Spears was born in 1981. 

While the reproductive coercion taking place for Spears is bringing the form of abuse to the forefront, it’s an issue that people with disabilities and women of color deal with regularly.  

“The public outcry because this has happened to a high-profile person like Britney Spears is warranted, but this is not new,” Carolyn Frohmader, from Women with Disabilities Australia told ABC. “This has been happening to women and girls with disabilities for decades.” 

The article goes on to say: 

“In Australia, guardians are legally appointed to make decisions on behalf of someone who does not have the capacity to do so by themselves because of a disability, which can be intellectual or physical, neurological, mental illness and dementia. Ms. Frohmader said reproductive coercion was a particular issue for intellectually disabled women who live in segregated settings like group homes. She told the ABC that “forced contraception is rampant.” 

Mental health coercion  

Abuse is prevalent for those who struggle with mental health. On average, more than half of women seen in a range of mental health settings are, or have been, abused by an intimate partner. Mental health coercion tactics are commonly used by abusers in domestic violence cases. A study of National Domestic Violence Hotline callers found that 89% of those victims and survivors experienced at least one of the three types of mental health coercion.  

What’s more, “recent studies of adverse childhood experiences also demonstrate the prevalence of lifetime abuse among individuals who have a mental illness.” 

With the case of Britney and Jamie Spears, mental health coercion appears rampant throughout, as was discussed in the gaslighting section. 

But in Spears’ testimony, she discussed a time when she spoke up about her latest Las Vegas tour and said no to one of the dance move in rehearsals, “it was as if I planted a huge bomb somewhere” and she remembers telling her assistant that “you know what, I feel weird if I say no. I feel like they’re gonna (sic) come back and be nice to me or punish me or something.” 

Three days after Spears said no, she was ordered to be put on lithium after being labeled as “difficult.” While this abuse can fall under mental health coercion, it also overlaps with substance abuse coercion. 

“He immediately the next day put me on lithium, out of nowhere, he took me off my normal meds I’ve been on for five years and lithium is a very, very strong and completely different medication compared to what I was,” she said. “You can go mentally impaired if you take too much if you stay on it longer than five months, but he put me on that, and I felt drunk.” 

Spears added that she then had six different nurses – not at her request – stay with her at her house. 

“Not only did my family, not do a (expletive) thing, my dad was all for it, anything that happened to me had to be approved by my dad,” Spears said. “He was the one who approved all of it. My whole family did nothing … I cried on the phone for an hour, and he loved every minute of it. The control he had over someone as powerful as me as he loved to control to hurt his own daughter and 100,000%. He loved it.” 

Jamie’s manipulative tactics not only convinced his eldest daughter that she was mentally ill, but it’s been the often-held stance with Britney Spears in the public eye. 

But the mental gymnastics that Jamie Spears was doing trickled down to his other daughter, Jamie Lynn Spears. 

It was reported in August 2020 that Jamie Lynn Spears was the trustee for her sister’s estate in 2017, and she was seeking even more control over it..  

While the 30-year-old former Nickelodeon star recently spoke out in support of ending the conservatorship, saying that she’s “only loved, adored, and supported” her sister. Stating she preferred to do so in private instead of public platform. Mental health coercion can take place when family members are pitted against each other, as the Spears’ sisters have often been portrayed to be in the media. 

“I just want my life back … It’s enough” 

While the judge ruled against the November request to remove the conservatorship, a decision has yet to be rendered on the most recent hearing, the first that Britney Spears spoke publicly out against. 

Spears’ 24-minute call detailing the events that have transpired behind closed doors for the past 13-plus years has made conservatorship a household word, but the abuse she’s experiencing is something that happens every single day. 

As is too often the case, it took a celebrity and someone with clout to bring the conversation to the forefront for it to really be driven home for people. 

If this abuse is happening to Spears, it’s also happening closer to home than you may think. 

In fact, one in four women and one in seven men experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. As we see with Spears, abuse isn’t under only the physical umbrella, but it can take many different forms. 

Like Spears, who has faced challenges with the legal system despite her resources, victims and survivors want to have the option, freedom, and ability to move forward, but are often faced with an overwhelming journey in pursuit of having control of their own life.  

“I deserve to have a life. I’ve worked my whole life. I deserve to have a two- to three-year break and just you know, do what I want to do,” Spears said. “I deserve to have the same rights as anybody does by having a child, a family, any of those things, and more so.”