Jayne Senior said she was honoured but saddened that the award has come in the wake of so many “ruined and devastated” young lives.
Mrs Senior said the honour is another vindication of her stance in the South Yorkshire town after years of being accused of lying and exaggerating.
But she said this public recognition is “bittersweet” as it comes after the exploitation of hundreds of children in a scandal that could have been stopped if she had been listened to.
“I’m very pleased and I’m honoured,” she said. “But it is a little bittersweet.
“I think it’s a great honour, I really do. I think it’s an opportunity to keep this in the public domain because it’s not just about Rotherham, it’s across the UK and we’ve got to keep raising this profile for kids now and for the future.
“But getting an award for what happened in Rotherham is the bit that saddens me - all those lives ruined and devastated. That’s the bit that upsets me.
“But, if it gives me an opportunity to keep talking about it and to continue supporting victims and family members and raising awareness so this never happens on this scale in another town, then it’s a great honour.”
Mrs Senior worked for the Risky Business youth project in Rotherham during the period in which girls in the town were being groomed, raped, trafficked, and forced into prostitution on a huge scale.
Risky Business repeatedly tried to alert authorities to what was happening but was largely ignored and eventually closed down.
Mrs Senior eventually collaborated with Andrew Norfolk of The Times, and started a chain of events which led to the Jay Report in 2014.
The report shocked the nation when it revealed more than 1,400 children were subjected to child sexual exploitation in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013 and ignored by police and social services.
Further vindication of Mrs Senior’s actions came with the hard-hitting Casey Report into Rotherham Council.
Then, earlier this year, a gang led by three brothers was jailed for a total of more than 100 years for crimes against children in the town.
These convictions came as a huge new investigation into what happened in Rotherham began to take shape led by the National Crime Agency.
The agency will soon have more than 100 officers working in the town and is looking at hundreds of suspects.
Mrs Senior said: “In two years I’ve gone from being investigated and being told I’m making things up, lying and exaggerating, to Alexis Jay’s report vindicating me and to Louise Casey’s report giving me my reputation back.
“It’s recognition that not only were we always telling the truth but, also, that the children were always telling the truth.”
Mrs Senior said she also wanted to stress the work of all the staff who worked with her at Risky Business in very difficult circumstances.
She said: “I was just a youth worker with a law degree that cared about kids.
“That was it. That was me. If it wasn’t good enough for my kids, it wasn’t good enough for those I was working with.”
Mrs Senior published a book earlier this year detailing her battle to expose the truth about Rotherham.
She now manages the Swinton Lock Activity Centre which works with vulnerable people in South Yorkshire, including child sexual exploitation survivors.