At 24, Alexis Jones launched I Am That Girl, a nonprofit that encourages young women around the world to connect and gain strength and confidence by sharing their stories. But after spending six years in what she calls "girl empowerment world," Jones, now 33, decided to shift to guy world and engage with elite male athletes on the topic of sexual assault. Through her ProtectHer campaign, she's now visited dozens of locker rooms nationwide for real talk on relationships and consent.

O: When you launched ProtectHer, did you have to brush up on your knowledge of alpha dudes?

Alexis Jones: I understand dude talk because I grew up with four older brothers. So when Yogi Roth, who's a college football analyst, and Trent Dilfer, who's a sports commentator and former NFL player, asked if I'd speak with the country's top high school quarterbacks about the importance of respecting women as part of a documentary series, I said yes. I had all my statistics lined up and ready—and then my husband told me to make it personal. He said, "Show pictures of their moms and sisters—girls they don't want anyone having sex with."

O: Did it work?

AJ: Yes! When I brought up numbers, their eyes glazed over. Then I clicked to the next slide, and someone's 16-year-old sister popped up. I'd memorized 10 or 15 names and said, "Well, it's different when it's Lauren or Julie or Sarah." Half of the guys started crying.

O: So ProtectHer began as an invitation and not a confrontation.

AJ: Exactly. We had forgotten to invite guys along! They hear about women's empowerment and women's marches and think the issues don't apply to them. Since that first talk, I've been everywhere from a private school near Pittsburgh to the University of Texas, where I spoke to 500 athletes.

O: Does addressing these guys ever intimidate you?

AJ: No. I accept that they've been poorly programmed. That's not to justify sexual assault, but to acknowledge they're sourcing all their confidence from performance, popularity and possessions. They consume media that glorifies violence against women as part of some definition of manhood. They'll follow society's instructions until we ask the hard questions.

The 2017 Rose Bowl game between the University of Southern California (a school Jones has worked with) and Penn State University (in blue and white).

O: Which are?

AJ: Here's an example: In one of my talks, a guy raised his hand and said, "I get it. It's important to respect girls. But it's cool to f*** chicks." So I asked, "Says who?" After a long pause he said, "I don't know." And I told him, "Yeah, because you're on autopilot! Someone handed you a script with a definition of cool that you didn't come up with yourself. I'm asking you to be brave enough to come up with your own." Afterward, he actually thanked me.

O: You're like the jock whisperer!

AJ: I've never heard words like "consent" and "bystander intervention" in a locker room. That stuff's in star-studded PSAs that don't equip guys to defy entrenched bro code in real life. If prevention programs keep sounding like academic robots, they'll keep failing these guys.

O: How do you define empowerment?

AJ: The mere recognition that choice exists. Many guys don't realize they can choose how to talk about women. But protectors exist inside us all. And young men want to be superheroes. I want to give them that option.

Out of Bounds

306: Number of current investigations by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights into possible Title IX violations involving alleged sexual violence at colleges.

80: Percentage of rape and sexual assault victimizations against female college students ages 18 to 24 that aren't reported to police.

23: Percentage of undergraduate women who, in a 2015 survey of 150,072 students, reported that they'd experienced nonconsensual sexual contact since enrolling in college.

Football photo: Robert Beck/Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

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