The Missouri Senate has given first-round approval to legislation strengthening laws against human trafficking.
The bill that advanced Wednesday increases the criminal penalties for human trafficking, slavery and some child sex crimes. It also requires those convicted of human trafficking to pay restitution to their victims and allows victims and the state attorney general to sue for more damages.
The measure would also let people accused of prostitution defend themselves by explaining that someone forced them to do it with a threat of violence.
Some supporters said such a defense should be available because people charged with prostitution might be victims rather than criminals.