Posted on July 28, 2021
LONDON — After Britney Spears laid bare the allegedly “abusive” restraints dictated by her longtime conservatorship in court Wednesday, many around the world reacted to her testimony with shock and anger. The star said she has been stripped of her independence — with her finances, personal affairs and even reproductive rights controlled by others.
On social media, messages of support poured in, while others scrutinized conservatorship laws in the United States and beyond.
Her remarks caused the hashtag #FreeBritney, long used by campaigners and protesters in the movement to defend her, to trend around the world. In London, a group rallied to support the star carrying signs through the streets that read “End the conservatorship, its toxic” and “She wasn’t born to make you $$$.” — both placards a nod to two of the singer’s many hit songs.
Spears said that she was “traumatized” by the conservatorship and that she had been forced to keep an IUD in place to prevent her from having more children.
She referred to the system as “embarrassing and demoralizing” and begged the judge to help terminate the arrangement that has seen her father, Jamie Spears, and others navigate her life for more than a decade.
Adam Mark Oliver, 29, said he organized the rally in London to raise awareness of the star’s plight. Along with a group of friends, Oliver said he marched through Trafalgar Square playing music and informing those around them of the conservatorship Spears is trying to end.
Oliver said the British fans have a WhatsApp group dedicated to supporting the singer and huddled in London’s SoHo as they listened live to the testimony. “It was amazing to hear,” he told The Washington Post.
In France, where the equivalent of conservatorship has prompted its own share of criticism, the invasiveness of the rules that apply to Spears surprised some Thursday.
“There is absolutely no way that a [conservator] can prevent someone to get pregnant,” said Jean-Victor Blanc, a psychiatrist at the Saint-Antoine hospital in Paris, who has written the book “Pop & Psy,” examining how pop culture can help readers understand mental health.
Blanc said the role of French conservators is mostly limited to financial decisions, rather than what he described as day-to-day personal decisions. He added it is increasingly common in France to rely on professional workers as conservators, rather than on family members and relatives — as is the case for Spears, whose bank accounts are controlled by her father as well as the bank Bessemer Trust.
There have been claims of abuse within France’s system. The country’s public broadcaster reported in 2017 that “negligence, fraud and abuse are more and more frequent.” The broadcaster said around 800,000 people were living under conservatorship or equivalent models in France that year.
Kola Alapinni, a human rights lawyer in the Nigerian capital of Abuja, said he was horrified by what Spears told the court.
Pop stars in Africa’s most populous country have fought their labels for more creative power, he said. They’ve tried to wriggle out of exploitative contracts. But he has never heard of a legal arrangement so controlling for any adult able to work at such a high level.
“We don’t have such draconian laws on conservatorship here,” Alapinni said. “I feel sorry for Britney.”
In Senegal, people who are unable to care for themselves can be appointed legal guardians — an arrangement meant to protect them from harm or help them recover. “Choosing the color of your cabinets does not fit into this framework,” said Anta Mbaye Kane, a human rights lawyer in the capital, Dakar.
That’s why the details Spears shared shocked her. “Assistance should not involve anything which would infringe upon the dignity of the person,” Kane said. “The opposite is degrading.”
Andrée Fayçalline Thes, a legal adviser focused on women’s rights in Ivory Coast’s commercial capital, Abidjan, read Spears’s comments Thursday and thought of a friend who found himself in a similar situation with a far different outcome.
That man, a business owner, had struggled with a drug addiction. So a court assigned his wife to manage the family’s financial affairs until a judge deemed him stable.
His rights were restored when he proved he could work again. “The essence of the guardianship here was to protect their heritage — not to control the body of the person,” said Thes, who runs a popular Facebook page explaining legal matters. “In Britney’s case, it was an assault on her human dignity.”
By Jennifer Hassan: Jennifer Hassan is a London-based breaking-news reporter for the Foreign Desk at The Washington Post. Before joining The Post as a social media editor in 2016, Jennifer was global community manager for the international chat app Viber. Jennifer honed her breaking-news skills as the U.K. social media editor at MailOnline. Twitter [https://twitter.com/GuinnessKebab]
By Danielle Paquette: Danielle Paquette is The Washington Post’s West Africa bureau chief. Before becoming a foreign correspondent in 2019, she covered economic issues in the United States and abroad. Twitter
Borso Tall in Dakar and Rick Noack in Paris contributed to this report.
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