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BRITNEY SPEARS — The Last American Slave

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People of a certain age may remember when Britney Spears first hit the headlines. She was just sixteen years old when she recorded the songBaby One  More Time. In 1998, it was number one on both sides of the Atlantic. A stunningly attractive blonde, she was the girl next door, charismatic, clean living, and on her way to stardom, even if she did have a tendency to mime during her “live” shows.

It was 2004 when things first started to go wrong. She married Jason Alexander, whom she had known since she was a young girl; the marriage was annulled literally days later. Then she suffered a serious injury during a rehearsal, it being fair to say that her dancing is (generally) superior to her singing. Then she had a whirlwind romance with dancer Kevin Federline, marrying him the same year and bearing him two sons. They divorced in 2007, and unusually, he was granted custody of the boys, after initially agreeing to shared custody.

The reason was not difficult to seek; a series of incidents, some trivial some not so, led to her becoming a psychiatric patient. On one occasion she shaved her head, something men do all the time, but for a woman with long, blonde hair…Her very public breakdown was followed intensely by the media, attracting not simply humour and mockery but at times blatant cruelty. This led to one Spears fan making a short YouTube video entitled Leave Britney Alone, which in thirteen years has racked up millions of views.

Concerned over her apparent mental deterioration, her family, in particular her father, sought and obtained a conservatorship over her. Sadly, once in place, they appeared to be more concerned with exploiting her rather than helping her back to full mental health.

Other countries have similar legal provisions for the mentally incapacitated; in the UK it is the Court Of Protection, which being in the UK is saturated with red tape, but even then  abuses occur. For the last three years of his life, Nigel Ley was under the Court Of Protection as he lay in a hospice bed, even so one of his mistresses managed to ensconce herself in his home and treat it as her own. In California, the law appears to be so flexible as to allow far greater abuse.

Britney Spears has been under a conservatorship for thirteen years. If she were a danger to herself or others, this would be understandable, but the terms of the court order are surely unique for someone who hasn’t been convicted of a serious felony. They include enforced medication, total control of her wealth, which is – or should be – in the tens of millions, and, get this, enforced contraception. Yes, you heard that right.

All the above conditions can be justified in extreme cases. For example, in Britain six years ago, it was ruled that a mother of six with an IQ of 70 should be sterilised for her own protection. It is actually a criminal offence in most jurisdictions for a man to have sex with an imbecile, but that can hardly be said of Britney Spears, who is not only articulate but has been working like a dog.

Then there is the issue of forced medication. The late Thomas Szasz argued passionately against this, and Peter Breggin still does.

Britney Spears is currently fighting to be released from her conservatorship. You can hear her arguing to a judge in a call that was released last week. Check out too the legal analysis by Canadian lawyer David Freiheit and American lawyer Robert Barnes. If you aren’t outraged at the way she has been treated, you should be.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.

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