Officers in Östersund first advised women not to walk around on their own at night, during a press conference on Monday, explaining that there had been at least six reports of violence against women in the area since February 20th.
“Now the police are going out and warning women against travelling alone in the city. We have seen a worrying trend,” regional police chief Stephen Jerand told Swedish media.
“This is serious, we care about the protection of women and that is why we are going out and talking about this.”
He explained that the recent reported crimes included an attempted rape in the centre of Östersund over the weekend. Police later added that they were also investigating the alleged molestation of a 10-year-old girl at a bus station.
However the force's recommendation that women should avoid being alone at night swiftly prompted criticism in Sweden, a nation that prides itself on promoting gender equality.
“The solution can never be to not go out because of such a warning. We have very many women who work in home and social care at night for example. What are they supposed to do?” the city's mayor Ann-Sofie Andersson told Swedish broadcaster SVT.
The politician, who represents the government's Social Democrat party at a regional level, said she wished police had told her about their intentions before issuing the warning.
Östersund in northern Sweden. Photo: Wikicommons
Meanwhile Johan Hedin, legal affairs spokesman for one of Sweden's opposition groups, the Centre Party, argued that the move could end up scaring women.
“It's wrong if it calls on women to adapt to the criminals. It risks leading people the wrong way, if the victims must adapt to the perpetrators,” he said.
On Tuesday afternoon, the police chief told the TT news agency that he felt some of his comments had been misinterpreted, as the story continued to spread rapidly on social media.
“We are not limiting anyone's freedom. This is purely factual information. We went out with warnings and some have interpreted this as that we forbid women to be out in town and that's completely wrong.”
The move by police in Östersund comes amid debates over whether the nation's decision to take in record numbers of refugees last year is linked to recent reports of sexual assaults in the Nordic country.
In January, police in Stockholm admitted that they had covered up mass allegations of abuse by asylum seekers at a music festival, arguing that they had sought to avoid far-right sentiment being spread in the city.
Later that month around 100 masked men went on the rampage in the capital, attacking immigrants and promising to protect Swedish citizens from violence carried out by foreigners.
However official statistics suggest that less than one percent of crimes in Sweden concern incidents involving refugees. Meanwhile, a number of international media have been accused of exaggerating the dangers faced by women living in Sweden.