Women connected to organised crime could deliberately infiltrate the ranks of agencies like the Australian Federal Police under their push for gender equality, a new report has found.
The report by the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity found law enforcement agencies will be more vulnerable to corruption by forcing gender balance in the workforce.
The report has been published as the AFP push to recruit more women to the force. An AFP social media post last month that spruiked a recruitment round targeting women split the online community, with passionate voices both in support and opposition.
The AFP, which welcomed the information in the report, has an ultimate goal of a 50/50 gender balance.
While past studies have found women are more trustworthy and have higher ethical standards than men, the report refutes that, calling it a "perpetuated myth". It found corruption in women in certain areas was more likely to go undetected because of these views.
"Simply bringing women into key decision making roles in public service does not tangibly address corruption risk," the report states. The report outlines that reforming the diversity of the police force will bring about massive change, where corruption can "thrive" unless the broader system addressing the risks of corruption is also reformed.
"This is evident where cultural or social norms excuse corruption or where accountability structures and systems are not also reformed."
The 'Corruption and the changing opportunities for women in law enforcement' report states that "assumptions about gender stereotypes as proof of higher ethical standards amongst women may ultimately be more harmful than beneficial to gender equity goals".
An emerging risk area, the report found, was the abuse by women of procurement processes or official credit cards, as fraud is considered to be a higher risk in men.
Case studies outlined in the report and put to various government bodies, including the AFP and Department of Immigration and Border Protection, found young women were likely to receive different sanctions than young men for corrupt activities, as they were seen to have been exploited, or "vulnerable".
In one example, the commission found a pattern of female law enforcement employees using false statutory declarations and medical documents to actively conceal other adverse behaviour.
"If observations of planning and active risk analysis by female employees are accurate, the implication for law enforcement is that some serious misconduct and corruption by female employees may be going undetected."
This could lead to opportunities for women in organised crime groups to join or progress their careers in law enforcement agencies.
In serious misconduct and corruption matters the report noted women are not proportionally represented given their lower numbers overall. However, there is a question about whether workforces have operated in ways that limit opportunity for female employees to engage in corruption.
Motivations for female corruption varied, but included financial gain particularly due to the rising cost of living, social capital and nepotism.
Social capital was justified as a mechanism to address issues of inequality, to help women "catch up" on missed opportunities and experience, and "as a reaction to the traditionally closed doors of male law enforcement networks".
Nepotism was a "strong driver" of corrupt behaviour for women, particularly when securing benefit for partner or children.
Men are also "well-represented in corrupt activity where nepotism is a significant motivator". However, law enforcement organisations are more vulnerable to female corruption in this area, as "gender stereotypes pervade the assessment of employee risk", so female behaviour is overlooked, the report found.
Unless systemic corruption which is likely occurring in the police force is identified and managed, women will be just as likely to commit corruption crimes as men, the report found.
"As the traditional paradigm of law enforcement changes, anti-corruption and integrity measures must change also."
The report did find that "in an organisation with strong governance, transparency, and a culture of reporting, the risk of corruption will be perceived as too great and women will be more risk averse than their male colleagues".
It does not draw comparisons between the corruption risk between men and women. While the findings recognised that diversity within law enforcement agencies can have wide benefits to both the workforce and the community, the ways of implementing the changes could lead to greater opportunity for corruption.
A spokesman for the AFP said the organisation welcomed "all research and information that contributes to greater knowledge of corruption trends and changes".
"The AFP will consider this report and any information it provides that contributes to a strengthened integrity and anti-corruption regime within our organisation," the spokesman said.
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