Over the weekend, I went on a road trip and listened to “Britney Spears: The Woman in Me,” narrated by Michelle Williams.
This nearly six-hour audio journey took me through the incredible life of Britney Spears, the pop sensation from Louisiana. What I discovered was a story not only about fame and fortune but also a narrative deeply entrenched in sexism, misogyny, and a shocking abuse of power.
At its heart, this book revolves around Britney’s father, Jamie Spears, and his controversial role as her conservator.
The book left me profoundly shaken as a human being, a woman, a daughter, and someone who is passionate about the world of work.
Britney’s father truly thought his daughter was only worth her work, and he only saw her value in how much it enriched him.
Before we delve into the troubling aspects of Britney’s story, let’s clarify what a conservatorship is.
A conservatorship is a legal arrangement where a guardian, known as a conservator, is appointed by a court to manage the personal affairs and finances of someone unable to do so themselves, typically due to incapacity or mental health concerns.
Jamie Spears went to court for thirteen years—conveniently using millions of dollars Britney earned while allegedly mentally ill and unable to care for herself—and made the case that only he could care for his daughter because she could not control her body, mind, thoughts, and personal finances.
Exploitation of Britney Spears
After listening to the audiobook, I firmly believe that Britney Spears was a victim of human trafficking, specifically forced labor exploitation, orchestrated by her father, Jamie.
What is human trafficking? It can be broken into two parts.
- Sex trafficking is a crime against a person in which a commercial sex act is induced by forcing, tricking, or pressuring/scaring them into doing it. Something of value (like money, shelter, food, drugs, safety, etc) is exchanged for that sex act. A commercial sex act for someone under the age of 18 is automatically considered trafficking, even without evidence of force, fraud, or coercion.
- Labor trafficking is a crime against a person in which they are forced, tricked, or pressured/scared into performing labor. In some cases, but not all, someone may be a victim of both labor and sex trafficking.
In Britney’s case, I believe her family subjected her to forced labor exploitation. The ringleader was her father, Jamie Spears.
Jamie’s actions, which included defrauding the court system to become Britney’s conservator, created a system that made her appear incapable of controlling her own life. He manipulated and coerced Britney into working relentlessly, using her desire to see loved ones and even eat the food she wanted as leverage.
And the fact that he paid others to be complicit in this exploitation and got away with it for over 13 years is alarming. It casts doubt on the California court system’s ability to intervene on behalf of its citizens who are currently part of the conservatorship system.
The Reality of Human Trafficking in the U.S.
You might be skeptical. Was Britney Spears truly a victim of being trafficked by her father? Is that too strong of a term?
Contrary to common misconceptions, human trafficking is not limited to sex trafficking or perpetrated solely by foreign individuals. In the United States, trafficking cases involve a wide range of perpetrators, including family members, friends, business owners, and more. Statistics reveal that forced labor exploitation is more prevalent, but public awareness primarily centers around the kidnapping of underage white girls for sex trafficking in Mexico, thanks to bad movies and even worse people.
In fiscal year 2020, of the 1,169 defendants charged with human trafficking offenses in U.S. district courts, 92% were male, 66% had no prior convictions, and the majority involved forced labor exploitation. And the trafficking of boys for both exploitative labor and sex work is higher than you think. A study by the U.S. Dept. of Justice found that 36% of youth involved in the sex trade were male.
Victims are Intentionally Hidden and Mislabelled
Victims of human trafficking often find themselves misidentified and treated as criminals themselves. Britney Spears repeatedly questioned whether she had done something wrong, a sentiment shared by many trafficking victims. She was locked away in mental institutions, medicated inappropriately, and denied access to the outside world and even basic necessities at times.
Some might wonder why Britney Spears, with all her fame and fortune, didn’t ask for help sooner. Trafficking victims are often trapped by fear, isolation, guilt, shame, misplaced loyalty, and expert manipulation. Identifying oneself as a victim can be an incredibly complex and challenging process, especially if self-worth and even a sense of identity are eroded.
Britney Spears is currently engaged in multiple lawsuits to bring her father and others to justice. But after listening to Britney’s story, it is clear that the court system failed her in numerous ways. The unquestioning trust placed in a white male figure like Jamie Spears is a stark reminder of systemic issues. Regardless of her reliability as a narrator, Britney, like any citizen, has the right to make choices about her life and finances. Her father’s exploitation of her labor and the complicity of others in her confinement are reprehensible and immoral.
In light of Britney Spears’ ordeal, ethics investigations and legal action should be taken against those involved in her conservatorship, including the state of California, the judge, Jamie’s lawyers, and the medical and psychological professionals who evaluated her. Additionally, there is a pressing need for conservatorship reforms in all 50 states of America.
Britney’s story is a stark reminder of the importance of safeguarding individual rights and autonomy, regardless of fame or fortune. It is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the imperative to address systemic injustices that persist within our society. And I hope that Britney gets more than justice for what she endured at the hands of her father and extended family. I hope she gets a little revenge.