Mark Sanford (cop) (copy)

U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C. AP Photo/Bruce Smith, File

U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford is defending his vote against a bill requiring athletic organizations to quickly report sexual abuse claims to law enforcement.

The South Carolina Republican is one of three House Republicans who this week voted no on the "Protecting Young Athletes from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017."

The bill is a federal response to the sex abuse scandal involving Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics national team doctor who was sentenced to as many as 175 years in prison for sexually abusing more than 150 women and girls over 25 years.

The three dissenting lawmakers are all male. 

Sanford said reporting crimes to authorities is not the problem he sees with the bill. His position, as explained in a 826-word Facebook post, centers on the new power it would give the U.S. Center for Safe Sport.

The legislation would allow the center to use a neutral arbitrator or arbitration body to resolve allegations of sexual abuse.

"On this, let me be clear, I condemn any form of sexual abuse and believe that steps should always be taken in the wake of any crisis to prevent bad things from happening again," Sanford said in the post. 

He added, "The name sounds innocuous enough, and there was even wisdom in setting up a third party in resolving abuse charges and cases. The problem is it ceded very wide authority to this body in its ability to adjudicate these cases without due process."

Sanford said a "catch" in the bill is that it "provided this third party with legal immunity. This denies the legal right to wrongfully accused individuals to sue for defamation."

He pointed to two examples of wrongful accusations to support his concerns: a 2006 case in which three members of the Duke lacrosse team were falsely charged with rape, and the gang rape claim against the University of Virginia's Phi Kappa Psi fraternity that was published in a now-retracted Rolling Stone article.

The bill was first proposed last spring by U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Indiana. Sanford voted for that measure in May. Its companion bill by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is the one Sanford voted against Monday in the House.

The Senate passed the final version unanimously by voice vote Tuesday afternoon. It now needs President Donald Trump's signature to become law.

The two challengers for the 1st Congressional District were quick to slam Sanford.

State Rep. Katie Arrington, R-Summerville, said she was personally outraged by the vote.

"Put aside my candidacy for Congress for a moment. As a mother and grandmother, I am truly disgusted that Mark Sanford voted against amateur sports organizations reporting sexual assault allegations," she said.

Democrat Joe Cunningham said Sanford's vote shows he does not represent the Lowcountry's values.

"This bill would help women step out from the shadows while placing pressure on those people and institutions that provide safe harbor to such evil," he said in a statement. "Women in the Lowcountry have once again been reminded exactly where our Congressman stands on these issues. And in November, it’s imperative they remind him where they stand."

Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-937-5590 and follow her on Twitter @MaryCaitlinByrd.

Caitlin Byrd is a political reporter at The Post and Courier and author of the Palmetto Politics newsletter. Before moving to Charleston in 2016, her byline appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times. To date, Byrd has won 17 awards for her work.