Jayne Senior helped lift the lid on 16 years of horrific abuse in which white vulnerable girls were abused by men of largely Pakistani heritage while those in authority turned a blind eye.
She was awarded the MBE for her work in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace yesterday.
Mrs Senior kept records of abuse and perpetrators she heard about when she managed the Risky Business youth project in Rotherham, which was for vulnerable teens.
But frustrated at a lack of action from the authorities, she took her notes to a national newspaper and a 16-year scandal was exposed.
Speaking after the ceremony, Mrs Senior said: "It's quite a bitter-sweet award, yes I'm proud but I should never have had to do this and be here in the first place.
"So for me it's about accepting it for all those courageous children that went through what they went through, and whose voices were ignored but not anymore.
"This has had a ripple effect across the UK now, and no more can we ever ignore this."
An independent report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham established that 1,400 children were abused between 1997 and 2013 and ignored by police and social services..
Mrs Senior, who earlier this year published a book about her battle to expose the truth about Rotherham, said: "We were their voice, we listened, they trusted us and we've got their story out there for the world to hear."
Mrs Senior said some of the abused children, now adults, were using their experiences to help others.
"What we've got now in Rotherham is a strong group of young people in their early 20s to early 30s, that have been victims of this as children and have now come to use their knowledge and their skills to help us raise awareness with vulnerable children.
"If anybody can teach people what signs to look for, it's them."
She added there was misconception that the parents of the abused children did not care, she said: "Actually we had a lot of parents who did everything they could to protect the children."