BARRIE, ONT. -- Shelters across Simcoe County report an increase in domestic violence as a troubling number of victims are confined to their homes with their abusers during the pandemic.

The side effect of the virus has local shelters stretched thin.

"I would definitely say 40 to 50 per cent increase in the crisis line," says Teresa MacLennan, Women's and Children's Shelter of Barrie.

MacLennan says women are forced to choose between two difficult options. "Do I come into a shelter setting knowing it's a congregate living environment and risk getting COVID, or do I stay with my abuser? A lot of women have decided to stay with their abuser and try to navigate through that."

The shelter in Alliston, Imani's Place, is struggling to meet the demand, and staff have had no choice but to turn people away.

The situation is much the same in Collingwood, where staff say the uptick in violent reports is "scary."

"Women are reporting that they're being shoved, punched, hair pulled," describes Alison Fitzgerald, My Friend's House. "Women are either too isolated and don't have the opportunity to leave, or don't think they can during the pandemic."

Experts say the key is to take the initiative to check-in on your sister, colleague, mother or friend.

Staff at the shelters say victims of abuse have options and can always reach out for support and help.

According to a Statistics Canada survey from April, one in 10 women said they were "very or extremely concerned" about the potential for violence in their home during the pandemic.

Stats Can also reported a decline in police reports of spousal violence, suggesting it may have been more difficult for the victim because of restricted contact with others outside of the home..

Click this website to find shelter and crisis lines right across Canada.